US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, on Tuesday, April 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Secretary of State John Kerry has been arrested one time in his life, and as it happens, I was there—at least until my mom took me home to bed.
It was the spring of 1971, and Kerry was in his relatively brief stretch as the face of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The group announced plans to camp on the Battle Green in Lexington, the Boston suburb where I was then attending sixth grade. When town officials denied them permission, hundreds of residents showed up in support, and in the early morning hours the police took them all to the Public Works garage; they were fined $5 and released. My father, a mild-mannered business reporter, was among the arrestees, and that’s mostly what I remember—but also the clean-cut and well-spoken Kerry, in his fatigues.
The world has a way of turning, and some combination of ambition, talent and devotion has over time made Kerry into a Washington power: long a senator, nearly a president, now secretary of state. And he is confronting one of the largest protest movements in this country since those turbulent times.
Sometime in the next couple of months, the State Department will issue a final environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline, followed by a determination on whether it is “in the national interest.” President Obama will have the final say, of course, but the other man who could stop it is John Kerry, which is why environmental groups, including 350.org, have mobilized to send him a million public comments.
So far, the signs aren’t good. A month after he took over at State, it issued a preliminary environmental ruling giving the project a clean bill of health. It didn’t take scientists more than a few hours of study to point out the many flaws and basic math errors in the ruling; perhaps stung by the embarrassment, the State Department announced that the “public comments” we’re now submitting will, in fact, be kept secret. (They may also have been stung by the pictures of tar-sands oil from a much smaller pipeline fouling an Arkansas suburb after a leak in late March.)
Other omens aren’t much better. Unnamed White House sources have said several times in recent weeks that the administration doesn’t think Keystone is a very big deal; seventeen Democratic senators, under intense pressure from the fossil-fuel industry, cast a symbolic vote in favor of the pipeline in March. One of the industry’s chief lobbyists wrote in an e-mail to his clients, “I just think it is funny how many of the true believers are seriously clueless about Keystone, politics, elections.”