Pressure mounting on Obama over pipeline decision

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 1, 2012 at 3:04 am •  Published: December 1, 2012
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Many Democrats from states whose economies depend on oil, like Landrieu, support the pipeline. So do some trade unions, whose workers stand to gain thousands of new construction jobs. And while environmentalists make up an important part of their base, Democratic lawmakers are under intense pressure to create jobs and reduce American reliance on Mideast oil.

There's less variation among Republicans, who by and large support the project. But in Texas, a deep red state that normally embraces the oil industry, the project has drawn intense opposition from landowners who argue their property along the pipeline's route is being unfairly condemned. Their complaints, along with those from Texans who oppose an influx of foreign oil from Canadian tar sands, have fostered an unlikely alliance with local environmentalists, who have taken to chaining themselves to machinery and trucks in an attempt to stall construction.

The messy politics may demonstrate why Obama punted the decision until after the election. Now both sides are applying pressure with renewed vigor.

A group of Keystone XL opponents, organized by climate activist Bill McKibben, marched on the White House in November, hoping to call attention to an issue that got barely a mention during the presidential campaign. Days earlier, a group of senators — nine Democrats and nine Republicans — sent Obama a letter urging him to stop stalling.

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican who helped organize the letter, said there's been no response from the White House, which declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the ratings agency Moody's says it expects Obama will eventually approve the pipeline, but it won't be quick. Take too long to approve the permitting, Moody's warned in a November report, and Obama risks missing the boom in oil prices that instigated the pipeline in the first place.

Estimates for how many jobs the pipeline would create range from a few thousand up to 20,000 or more. At 36 inches in diameter, the pipeline will have an initial capacity of 700,000 barrels a day. That's significant, because demand for oil and gas pipelines is expected to surge over the next four years, according to a November report by The Freedonia Group, a market research firm.

A TransCanada spokesman said the company expects a decision by the State Department, which is tasked with determining whether the pipeline is in the national interest, in the first quarter of 2013, and hopes to start construction on the upper portion shortly thereafter. The longer the decision drags on, the less realistic that timeline appears to be.

Officials in Nebraska are close to completing their own study of the revised route, with a public hearing planned for Dec. 4 ahead of a final decision by Gov. Dave Heineman.

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP