The petroleum industry is pushing hard on President Obama to give the green light to a controversial transnational pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
The head of the oil and gas industry’s influential Washington lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), is warning of political consequences should Obama deny approval for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline.
Congressional Republicans forced Obama to make a quick decision about the project as part of last month’s short-term compromise over extensions of a middle-class tax cut and unemployment benefits. The legislation requires the administration to make a determination within 60 days.
Obama came under fire after he announced he would put off a decision until 2013 following news that the State Department’s independent inspector general had launched an investigation into the process by which the $7 billion pipeline was being reviewed. Keystone XL needs State Department approval because it would cross the U.S. border. For approval, Obama must declare the pipeline to be in the “national interest.”
Opponents object to the pipeline because potential damage it could do to water supply in Nebraska. Further, many — including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — oppose the project because emails have shown a cozy relationship between corporate lobbyists for the pipeline and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Opponents have staged a number of high-profile protests against Keystone XL outside of the White House.
(A more detailed explanation of the Keystone XL pipeline and its controversies can be found online here.)
Jack Gerard, president of API, appeared on the energy-industry webcast On Point Wednesday, trying to make the case that the pipeline would create needed American jobs.
“It’s a real test on the part of the president. Is he for job creation or isn’t he? So I think there is consequence if he makes the wrong choice,” Gerard says. “I think he ought to do the right thing, approve the pipeline, let’s put our people to work and let’s make ourselves more energy self-sufficient.”
Although Gerard says the pipeline could create 20,000 new jobs, opponents say the actual number would be far fewer. Even TransCanada, the company pushing for the pipeline, has said the jobs created would be no more than 7,000.
Gerard blames the discrepancy on “the assumptions and the multipliers” used to calculate job creation. He also claims that the environmental issues, including water quality in Nebraska, “have been dealt with.”
The controversy over the pipeline has threatened to fracture the Democratic base. Environmentalists and activists against corporate influence vehemently oppose the project. However, labor unions — traditionally staunch allies of Obama and Democrats — appeared before a House Republican hearing to advocate for its approval based on the job-creation argument.
Gerard cited labor support as another reason for Obama to move forward.
“Organized labor already has a project labor agreement on this pipeline. The president’s constituency is strongly supportive of building this pipeline,” he says.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.