TransCanada Pipeline’s Opponents Urge Obama to Buck ‘Oil Power’

Environmentalists opposed to TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline encircled the White House, urging President Barack Obama to reject the project even if it means overruling his own State Department.

“It will be the real test of his character, you know: Is he going to stand with people’s power, or oil power?” Bill McKibben, organizer of the demonstration, said in an interview after the rally in Washington yesterday whose sponsors said it drew as many as 12,000 people.

The $7 billion pipeline would carry oil from Alberta across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to Gulf Coast refineries. Pipeline opponents say extracting crude from Canada’s oil sands emits three times more carbon than conventional oil production and a spill could pollute fresh-water supplies.

The State Department, which has jurisdiction over the project because it crosses an international border, has said it aims to issue a decision by year-end. Its environmental assessment has already found the project poses “no significant impacts to most resources” along its route provided Calgary-based TransCanada complies with U.S. law and follows recommended safeguards.

“The State Department is in charge of analyzing this because it’s a pipeline coming in from Canada.” Obama said in a Nov. 1 interview with KETV, a television station in Omaha, Nebraska. “They’ll be giving me a report over the next several months.”

Opponents such as McKibben say they took that as a sign Obama wants the final say and may overrule a State Department go-ahead for Keystone XL.

‘I Know Enough’

“He should say, ‘I know enough to reject this,’” McKibben, who founded, a group aimed at fighting global climate change, said. “But he could also say defensively, ‘The State Department process was so corrupted and flawed that I need to send this back to the beginning, we need to have a real report on this.’”

Among protesters outside the White House yesterday were Mark Ruffalo, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar, and Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban land mines.

Jessica Sobocinski, a 20-year-old student who rode 12 hours on a bus from Bloomington, Indiana to join the protest, wore an orange vest that read, “Stop the Pipeline.”

“If the pipeline has any kind of leakage, it would leak into our farmlands and into that water,” Sobocinski said. “And even if they were to make this really nice pipeline that wouldn’t leak, we shouldn’t be dependent on these limited resources -- we already know that oil is going to run out.”

‘Anti-Oil Campaign’

TransCanada has said the Keystone XL pipeline will help cut U.S. dependence on oil from Venezuela and the Middle East, and create more than 20,000 U.S. jobs through 2012.

The protesters’ rhetoric “shows the desperation” of activists who are part of “an anti-oil campaign that is using our pipeline as the target,” Shawn Howard, a spokesman for the company, said Nov. 4.

Obama “recognizes that there are a number of critical issues involved in this decision, including climate change and impacts on public health and natural resources,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “These issues, along with American energy security and economic factors, will be considered in the State Department’s ongoing assessment.”

Groups including Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council called last month for an investigation into what they described as State Department bias toward TransCanada during the environmental review.

The State Department has said its review process is transparent and fair to all sides. TransCanada has said it didn’t influence the department’s work.

Nebraska Legislature

Among the pressures on Obama is opposition in Nebraska to the pipeline’s route. The state legislature is meeting in special session in Lincoln, the capital, to consider measures aimed at forcing TransCanada to reroute the pipeline away from the Ogallala aquifer, which provides fresh water to 1.5 million people in the region.

“We need to encourage domestic natural-gas and oil production,” Obama said in the interview with the Omaha station. “We need to make sure that we have energy security and that we aren’t just relying on Middle East sources. But there’s a way of doing that and making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected.”

Some of the protesters who demanded yesterday that Obama reject the pipeline say he may spurn their pleas under election-year pressure to produce jobs in a time of 9 percent unemployment.

“I don’t think, given this economy, he will turn it down, I think he will approve it,” said Jim Lemon, 57, of Vienna, Virginia. He voted for Obama in 2008 and said he plans to support him next year regardless of the pipeline decision.