Greens: Approval of oil pipeline could hurt Obama in 2012

Environmental groups are ratcheting up political pressure on President Obama to reject a massive proposed oil pipeline, warning that approval of the project could make the president vulnerable going into the 2012 elections.

“It will be increasingly difficult to mobilize the environmental base and in particular to mobilize young people” if Obama approves the pipeline, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said Thursday.

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Environmental groups have mounted an increasingly aggressive opposition campaign to TransCanada’s 1,700-mile proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian oil sands from Alberta to refineries in Texas.

In recent weeks, the groups have sought to shine a spotlight on the White House, stressing that the final decision to approve the controversial pipeline lies with the president.

Environmentalists began a high-profile, two-week-long protest of the pipeline outside the White House this past weekend. Hundreds of people have been arrested.

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said Thursday the final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is a “bellwether” for President Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change and weaning the country off its dependence on oil.

“This decision is squarely on President Obama’s desk,” Pica said. “He has no excuses; he cannot blame Congress; he cannot blame the oil and gas industry.”

Pica suggested Obama will make himself vulnerable to political attacks if he allows the pipeline to move forward.

“Clearly, President Obama ran his election campaign on ending Americans’ addiction to oil as well as addressing climate change,” he said. “If he approves this pipeline, I think it’s frankly open season on the president’s record in fulfilling this open promise that he made to the American people.”

Environmentalists have long opposed the pipeline. They note, among other things, that Canadian oil sands production results in greater greenhouse gas emissions than traditional oil production, and argue that the pipeline would leave the country vulnerable to oil spills.

But many Republicans in Congress and the oil industry have mounted their own campaign in support of the project, arguing it will boost the economy and make the U.S. less reliant on Middle Eastern oil.

On a call with reporters Thursday, top environmental groups preemptively attacked the State Department’s pending final environmental review of the pipeline, citing a Washington Post story that says the analysis will find that the project will have “limited adverse environmental impacts.”

Natural Resources Defense Council senior adviser Danielle Droitsch said the environmental analysis leaves “several unanswered questions about pipeline safety and whether it really addresses energy security.”

She called on the administration to conduct additional analysis on alternative pipeline routes as well as the impact of increased refinery emissions resulting from the pipeline.

Approval of the project, she said, “will be a dirty legacy for President Obama and [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton.”

The State Department review, which could be released as early as Friday, is the latest setback for the opponents of the project. The department is heading up a multi-agency review of the pipeline that has lasted for years.

But the environmental groups stressed Thursday that the fight is not over, pointing to an upcoming 90-day public comment period on the State Department’s review as well as the final decision by the president.

Droitsch said debate on the project in the coming months will be “very heated”

“I think you’re going to find that there’s going to be a much more significant debate,” she said.

The State Department has said it expects a final decision on the project by the end of the year.