Obama Signals Confrontation with Republicans on Keystone

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U.S President Barak Obama speaks to students during a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Town Hall meeting on November 14, 2014 in Yangon, Burma.

Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

President Barack Obama offered his clearest critique of the case for the Keystone XL pipeline, signaling a confrontation with Republicans as they try to force approval of the project starting today.

“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else,” the president said today during a visit to Yangon, Myanmar. “It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”

The statement repeats a main point used by opponents of the project, including former hedge fund manager and now Democratic fundraiser Tom Steyer. He and other critics have argued the heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands that will be carried by Keystone is destined for overseas markets.

Supporters argue the project will create jobs and that the oil is likely to stay in the U.S. and reduce the price of gasoline for consumers.

Obama, during a news conference with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar opposition leader, was asked by a reporter about a scheduled vote in the House today and the Senate next week on legislation that would approve the project over his objections.

Democrats said it will be the eighth time Republicans sought to pass Keystone-related legislation. The difference this time is the promise of Senate action on the same bill next week, where it faces a closer vote. The Republican-led House will vote about noon and probably pass the bill.

U.S. Review

Obama said his review, led by the State Department because the pipeline would cross a border, shouldn’t be circumvented.

“This is a process that is supposed to be followed,” he said. He said he would judge the project on whether it or not it accelerated climate change or if it reduced energy costs and gasoline prices for Americans.

“I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices,” Obama said.

Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said earlier this week that legislation to override the government’s pipeline review process wouldn’t be welcomed at the White House.

In the past, “we have indicated that the president’s senior advisers at the White House would recommend that he veto legislation like that,” Earnest told reporters yesterday in Myanmar, where Obama is attending a summit.

Predicts Rejection

Michael McKenna, a Republican energy strategist and president of MWR Strategies in Midlothian, Virginia, said he believes Obama won’t allow the pipeline to be built.

“I don’t know how he could be any clearer,” he said.

Pipeline opponents said they were encouraged by Obama’s response.

“President Obama is standing with farmers, ranchers and tribal families as we fight to protect our land and water,” said Jane Kleeb, founder of BoldNebraska, a group that says the pipeline is a threat to the state’s water resources and farmland.

The project would directly create the equivalent of 3,900 jobs during two years of building, according to a State Department analysis. The total will shrink to 50 permanent positions when the pipeline is operating, according to the review.

The department said the pipeline probably wouldn’t be a significant contributor to global warming because the oil sands would be developed and the crude sent to market even if Keystone wasn’t approved. Rail roads and other pipelines have expanded their capacity to move the oil to refineries.

The State Department suspended its review earlier this year because of a legal challenge in Nebraska over the route’s path. Obama said until the route was certain, “it’s very hard to finish that evaluation.”

The House bill is H.R. 5682.