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The Keystone XL Zombie Rises

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The fight against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is starting to feel more like a bad horror movie everyday. Just when you think our heroes have struck a fateful blow, out comes a hand from the soil. "The zombie lives!"

This Thursday, President Obama will travel to Cushing, Oklahoma to give a press conference in a pipe yard owned by TransCanada, the company that has been trying (and failing) to build the Keystone XL pipeline for the last few years. The president is expected to trumpet his commitment to fast-track the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline and may even go so far as to endorse the entire project itself.

I'm not sure what campaign advisor convinced the Obama team that this press conference was a good idea, but they're way off the mark. Let's be realistic here: no matter what President Obama does, Big Oil and Republicans are going to continue to accuse him of being anti-oil development. Case in point, Obama's speech in Oklahoma is being protested by oil workers who, no doubt, will be chanting "Drill, Baby, Drill" even though the president has opened up more drilling than any of his predecessors. Try as he might, Obama just isn't going to get Big Oil to call off their dogs.

Instead, the Cushing speech will make President Obama look like exactly what his campaign accuses Romney of being: a flip-flopper, the etch-a-sketch politician who tilts whichever way the wind blows. Instead of letting him stand on principle, Obama's advisors are forcing him to walk a difficult tightrope. We've seen this circus before on health care, immigration, gay rights -- come to think of it, nearly every progressive issue near and dear to the coalition that came together to elect this president in 2008 (and the coalition he needs in 2012).

The press conference is especially disappointing because the president actually has plenty of accomplishments he could be celebrating. The historic fuel efficiency standards the administration has supported will do more to save consumers money at the pump than any drilling or pipelines ever could. The president's stimulus package was the largest investment in renewable energy in our nation's history. Just yesterday, I toured the National Renewable Energy Lab where federal dollars are funding research into thin-film solar technology and other breakthrough technologies.

Imagine the press event the president could have done if his advisors weren't convinced that more pandering to the Corporate Right would change his polling numbers. Instead of going to Cushing, President Obama could have gone to Nebraska and stood on stage with ranchers and landowners and talked about the need to stand up to a foreign oil company that's trying to build a leaky pipeline carrying dirty oil across America's heartland, putting our nation's land, water, and climate at risk. He could have rallied the country to stand up to Big Oil and support a clean energy economy that could put Americans back to work and help solve the climate crisis. And he could have continued his push against the $4 billion in subsidies that Big Oil receives every year.

After he leaves Cushing, the president will travel to Ohio State University, where he will quickly talk out of the clean energy side of his mouth and talk about supporting renewables and cutting subsidies. But instead of being met with cheers from environmentalists and students, the president will be met with protesters rallying against Keystone XL and fracking, another practice that the administration is tight-roping on. These protests will only continue as the election gets closer unless the president can convince these young people and advocates that he really does stand with them and not the fossil fuel industry.

So, in the ongoing epic summer-blockbuster type struggle against the fossil fuel industry, where do our heroes go from here? Last week, Bill McKibben laid out some next steps in a video that's been viewed by over 25,000 activists around the country:

Going forward, we need a multi-pronged approach. We'll keep up our strong opposition to Keystone XL, supporting efforts all along the pipeline route to block TransCanada from moving forward with the project. We'll also go on the offensive in two key ways, first, by pushing for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and second, by taking on other iconic fossil fuel fights across the country. Throughout, we'll continue to remind people of the underlying goal that links all of these efforts: stopping the climate crisis. (This week, 350.org will be launching a new effort to connect the dots between extreme weather and global warming -- look for more info on that soon).

As Bill has said, "There are no permanent environmental victories." The fight against Keystone XL has helped galvanize a grassroots movement across the country. President Obama and Big Oil should be under no illusion that a couple of announcements about fast-tracking half the pipe are going to slow us down. If anything, setbacks like his help energize movements and make us stronger for the fights ahead.

The Keystone XL zombie may have risen again, but our heroes are regrouping all across the country. Stay tuned.

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