Keystone Delay Wins Obama Election Support

Source: Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A mock oil pipeline is carried during a Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline demonstration near the White House on Nov. 6. Pipeline opponents say extracting crude from sand emits three times more carbon than conventional oil production, contributing to global warming that Obama pledged to fight. Close

A mock oil pipeline is carried during a Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline... Read More

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Source: Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A mock oil pipeline is carried during a Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline demonstration near the White House on Nov. 6. Pipeline opponents say extracting crude from sand emits three times more carbon than conventional oil production, contributing to global warming that Obama pledged to fight.

Susie Tompkins Buell, a co-founder of the Esprit clothing company, has raised and contributed at least $20 million to Democratic candidates and causes over the last 10 years.

She was reluctant to contribute to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, until yesterday.

Buell was waiting for Obama to make a decision whether to allow TransCanada Corp. to build its Keystone XL oil pipeline, a 1,661-mile (2,673-kilometer) pipeline that would deliver 700,000 barrels a day of crude from Alberta's oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico by crossing Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Yesterday, Obama's State Department said it would delay a decision on the project pending new studies on its environmental and health impacts. For some, he was punting the political football until after the next election. For Democratic supporters like Buell, it was just enough to sway opinion. She said she's now likely to contribute, even though she had hoped for outright rejection of the pipeline.

``I do want to see him step up, I don't want to see him run from this,'' she said in an interview. ``I think he's stalling for more information, and I think this will avoid a problem for him before the election.''

Delaying the decision is helping Obama repair frayed relations with environmentalists as he runs for re-election in 2012. A State Department official said politics played no role in its announcement yesterday that it will study alternate routes for the $7 billion pipeline.

That wasn't the assessment of pipeline supporters such as Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who called the move an effort to ``avoid upsetting the president's political base.'' Obama's environmentalist allies, who welcomed the action, agreed.

Environmental groups have praised Obama for winning tougher environmental standards for cars and trucks and providing $90 billion in loan guarantees for energy efficiency and the development of renewable power sources.

They have criticized his failure to win cap-and-trade legislation limiting carbon emissions, his renewal of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after last year's BP Plc oil spill and his decision in September to overrule stricter smog standards sought by the Environmental Protection Agency.

While Obama's union supporters said the project would create thousands of jobs, his environmental backers said it would damage delicate terrain, risk water supplies and add to greenhouse gas emissions.

``He's guaranteed to upset labor and/or environmentalists,'' said James Manley, a former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley who worked as an energy adviser to Obama's 2008 campaign, said there will be ``no protest-free route'' for the pipeline. ``The real issue isn't the route. It's what's in the pipeline.''

The process of mining Canada's rich oil sands releases significantly more carbon emissions than conventional drilling. That's why the Keystone XL pipeline has stirred passions in Washington, culminating in the choreographed arrests of more than 1,000 protesters at the White House this summer.​

The delay also responds to concerns among Nebraska citizens, state officials and some members of Congress that TransCanada's proposed route across that state's Sandhills area risks the Ogallala aquifer, the drinking-water source for 1.5 million people.

The Nebraska legislature has been meeting in special session to consider legislation that would force a change in TransCanada's route through the state. The legislature will evaluate on Nov. 14 whether to continue meeting or postpone consideration of pipeline until its regular session in January.

"We support the pipeline, but we're opposed to the route," Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, said in an interview. ``We're very excited here in Nebraska that our voices have been heard.''

Russ Girling, chief executive officer of Calgary-based TransCanada, said previously that rerouting delays might kill the project. Yesterday, he said the company is confident it will ultimately succeed because it's "too important to the U.S. economy, the Canadian economy and the national interest of the United States for it not to proceed."

The Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobbying group, said the decision will cost 20,000 jobs immediately and "hundreds of thousands more" in the future.

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