Obama's Energy Legacy: A Political Tightrope
For those who have paid close attention to President Barack Obama’s national energy policy, Sunday’s decision to deny the already approved permits to finish construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline came as little surprise.
Last year, President Obama issued an executive order that killed the Keystone XL pipeline, despite the fact his own State Department issued a report stating the pipeline would have no impact on carbon emissions and would not harm the environment.
Of the numerous political factors that have pushed the Obama energy legacy, one business connection stands out. Billionaire Warren Buffett and President Obama have a very close relationship. Buffett owns BNSF Railroads, the same group that currently ships oil from the Bakken to market. If either the Keystone and/or Dakota Access Pipeline go through, it will put a major dent in Buffett’s bottom line.
In truth, only 100 percent renewable sources like wind and solar energy have gained favor under Obama with very mixed results.
The Solyndra Scandal
Solyndra was a $550 million taxpayer subsidy for the failed California Solar company. In May 2010, President Obama claimed Solyndra was “leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.” In August 2011, Solyndra shut down. 1,100 people were out of work, and taxpayers were on the hook for $535 million in federal loans.
More troubling, it appeared the president wasn’t concerned about the massive loss to taxpayers. Thomas Pyle of U.S. News wrote an article on new loan guarantees to additional green companies despite the Solyndra scandal. Pyle wrote, "Now here we are, $535 million in wasted taxpayer dollars later, and it seems that the administration is intent on going full speed ahead. In fact, the president recently said in an interview that the Solyndra deal was 'a good bet.' Talk about a disconnect."
Obama’s energy policy was really an environmental strategy, focused on committing the country to international agreements on global climate change rather than taking advantage of America’s domestic energy resources.
Dakota Access Pipeline Fight
As for the Dakota Access pipeline, Native American groups and environmental activists lauded Obama's move to deny the permit needed to complete the pipeline. It represented a victory for protesters who had set up a large and growing camp near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
The reservation is near a section of the $3 billion pipeline project. The pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois, is all but constructed, save the Standing Rock location. Interestingly, the Northern Border Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline, is already in existence and runs under the same location of the Missouri River where the protests have been occurring. Tribal officials said the natural gas pipeline was installed about a decade before changes to a federal law gave tribes a voice in the process. Water tests have shown the Northern Border Pipeline hasn’t impacted the environment.
Where Do We Go From Here
The Army Corps of Engineers will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes. Although, Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, told the Associated Press in November that the company has no alternative than to stick to its plan.
“There's not another way. We're building at that location," Warren said. Initially, Dakota Access considered a pipeline route that crossed the Missouri River north of Bismarck.
As for President-elect Donald Trump? It seems pretty clear where he stands. Republican North Dakota Senator John Hoeven said he met with Trump's transition team to discuss the delayed pipeline. Hoeven said, "Mr. Trump expressed his support for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has met or exceeded all environmental standards set forth by four states and the Army Corps of Engineers."