This November, the Koch Brothers and their friends in the oil industry used tens of millions of dollars to successfully replace Senate Majority Leader Reid with Mitch McConnell, a Republican more welcoming of their polluting agenda. The first demand from the oil industry for their assistance is the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Instead of uniting the party and creating cohesion and opposing the Koch brothers' polluting agenda, the response of Senate Democrats suggests they are more concerned about politics than the planet. The two parties are now competing to see which party can stamp its name on the Keystone XL pipeline that threatens our planet first. This is a transparent Hail Mary to save one of the oil industry's biggest champions, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The Koch brothers bought themselves an election, and now Senate Democrats are trying to build them a pet project in order to protect an oil industry champion. Talk about inviting the wolf into the hen house.
Even when Senate Democrats played footsie with the fossil fuel industry, they remained targets. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) promoted the export of natural gas and moved anti-fracking measures off the ballot, but it didn't help his election results. Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) voted to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and won't be returning to Washington. Apparently, the Koch Brothers do not believe in taking political prisoners. With a Republican Senate Majority, the oil industry no longer needs Senator Landrieu, so why are the Senate Democrats allowing a Keystone XL vote?
Building the Keystone XL will be devastating to the environment. But if the Democrats are able to save Senator Landrieu, the repercussions could be far worse. It means that a pro-oil senator in a state that's rapidly losing land to flooding, and still paying the ecological and economic costs of the BP oil spill, will be perched as the ranking member atop the important Energy and Natural Resources Committee, if the Democrats do retake the Senate in 2016. Senator Landrieu could stall any attempts to avoid climate disruption, but frankly, the planet doesn't have time to wait. Were Senator Landrieu defeated in her December 2 runoff election, there is a potential for real energy leadership from the Senate in the future.
Political compromises like the one on Keystone XL are not only bad for the planet but they undermine the fight that will be necessary to fend off anti-environmental provisions now that Democrats are in the minority. Opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline is not just about stopping the production of tar sands -- it is about listening to the people's will. Led by farmers and ranchers, tribal communities and everyday Americans, the fight over the pipeline has brought thousands of people into the streets and emboldened hundreds to get arrested to show their opposition. These are the same people whose power the Supreme Court has tried to limit through rulings like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC, decisions that opened the gates for corporations to spend unlimited dollars to influence elections.
Voters care about climate and don't want their leaders catering to corporate interests above those of the American public. The Keystone XL opposition has united environmentalists with farmers, ranchers and Native American tribes. It is one of the principle reasons more than 400,000 people marched in the streets of New York City to demand that our leaders pay attention to climate science. If the Democrats are serious about reclaiming power in 2016, they need to prove that they are willing to take the just, responsible and moral stance by keeping fossil fuels in the ground and rejecting a pipeline to export the world's dirtiest oil.