Obama embraces Keystone skepticism

Obama embraces Keystone skepticism

President Obama has increasingly sided with the most negative assessments of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, leading both opponents and supporters to believe that he’ll reject the contentious project’s permit.

As anger among Republicans in Congress has grown stronger when it comes to Obama’s years-long delay on judging Keystone, the president has gradually abandoned attempts to avoid weighing in on the project’s merits, gravitating instead toward arguments against it.

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His most recent comments, centering on the process used to mine Canada’s oil sands, are among his most damning.

“The reason that a lot of environmentalists are concerned about it is the way that you get the oil out in Canada — an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil,” he said March 6 in South Carolina.

It was just the latest in a line of negative reviews he’s given on Keystone since November, when the Senate started formally debating a bill to go over Obama’s head and approve the pipeline itself.

Ultimately Obama vetoed a bill approved by the GOP-led Congress. And though his stated objection was that Republicans hadn’t let the approval process run its course, his public remarks indicate strong reservations about letting Keystone proceed.

“It could create a couple of thousand potential jobs in the initial construction of the pipeline, but we’ve got to measure that against whether or not it is going to contribute to an overall warming of the planet that could be disastrous,” he said during an appearance on “The Colbert Report” in December.

The State Department estimated last year that Keystone would support 42,000 jobs. But of the jobs it would create, only 35 would be permanent, while several thousand would be temporary construction positions.

Obama gave one of his worst reviews of Keystone later in December, when he said the project would be “good for the Canadian oil industry but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers, it’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.”

All the while, though, Obama has added caveats that he has still not decided whether he would approve the pipeline.

The State Department is taking public comments on the project, proposed by TransCanada Corp. in 2008, and will make a recommendation to Obama on the project’s impact on the national interest.

It is ultimately Obama’s decision on whether Keystone will get a permit to build. He told Reuters early in March that the ruling would come in “weeks or months,” and declined to be more specific.

Obama’s negative rhetoric has various observers thinking his rejection of the pipeline is all but guaranteed.

“The president still stands where he was in the beginning,” said Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Trump EPA to defend Obama smog rule | Wheeler gets warmer welcome before Senate | Animal rights groups sue Interior over pro-hunting council EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing Trump has no plans to endorse in Tennessee GOP governor's race: report MORE (R-Wyo.), one of the original sponsors of the Senate bill to approve the project. “He dragged it out, but he was against it from Day One and continues to be.”

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) is optimistic that the pipeline will eventually get approved, but he doesn’t think Obama will be the one to do so.

“He’s not giving very many positive signals that he’s going to approve the Keystone pipeline,” he said. “But we’ve got to keep fighting. I think that it will eventually get built.” 

A GOP Senate aide was even less hopeful.

“His comments over the past several months indicate he will side with the far-left groups over the science and will likely deny the permit,” the aide said.

Cindy Schild, senior manager for oil sands at the American Petroleum Institute, said supporters of Keystone have reason to be hopeful, but not too hopeful.

“I’d like to be hopeful, but I’m certainly disappointed,” she said. “He certainly seems to be more forceful in his remarks.”

Obama’s new rhetoric is music to environmentalists’ ears.

“We are more confident than ever that the president is going to reject this dirty and dangerous pipeline once and for all,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, the top lobbyist for the League of Conservation Voters.

“The fact that he vetoed the bill, that he has been more and more outspoken both about the lack of benefits and the many risks associated with the pipeline, it’s all incredibly encouraging,” she said.

Melinda Pierce, the top lobbyist at the Sierra Club, agrees.

“He is definitely swatting down some of the favorite arguments of the pipeline proponents and definitely calling out the pipeline’s vulnerabilities,” she said. 

“As he evaluates the national interest determination, he’s got all the evidence he needs to reject it.”