White House: No politics in Keystone decision

The White House on Wednesday pushed back against a former Cabinet secretary who said the decision on building the Keystone XL pipeline would be a political one.

Press secretary Jay Carney rejected former Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s statement and reiterated the White House view that a decision will be divorced from politics.

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“The process is designed to be insulated from politics,” he said. “That doesn't prevent people from trying to politicize it. But it does insulate the experts from, you know, the politics that have obviously surrounded this issue.”

The State Department last week concluded the construction of the pipeline connecting Alberta to the Gulf Coast would not dramatically alter the expansion of oil sands production. It opened a three-month public review period, to be followed by a 15-day period when other agencies could weigh in.

After that, a decision on constructing the pipeline could come from the White House, which is under intense pressure from green groups to reject the project. Republicans and some Democrats, including Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), who faces a tough reelection race, are pressing for its approval.

Chu told Oil & Gas Journal he didn’t have a position on whether Keystone should be built.

“That is for the secretary of State and the president. But I will say that the decision on whether the construction should happen was a political one and not a scientific one,” Chu said.

Carney said perhaps Chu was referring to the politics surrounding the decision.

Separately, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a House energy conference on Wednesday he supported Keystone’s construction, as long as the operator agreed to tough environmental standards and to fund conservation programs.

The former Colorado senator told The Associated Press the project could be a “win-win,” and the controversial practice of fracking was “safe.”

Carney avoided being drawn into a debate on fracking’s merits, saying he had not seen Salazar’s comments.

“The president believes that natural gas is an important part of our future and that methods that we use to extract it need to be safe and secure. We believe that they are and can be, but we obviously have to take steps to ensure that's the case,” Carney said.