WASHINGTON — As his term enters its final year, President Barack Obama put to rest what is perhaps his most enduring political albatross: the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline.
With little advance warning or fanfare, Obama — flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry — announced the United States will officially reject the proposed pipeline that would carry vast quantities of crude oil from Canada through the American heartland to refineries in Nebraska, Illinois, and elsewhere. The 1,179-mile pipeline, Obama said, “would not serve the national interests of the United States.”
The pipeline has weighed on Obama for virtually his entire presidency: under federal review since 2008, the fate of Keystone has taken numerous twists and turns as Obama has sought to keep the powerful political forces at odds over the project at bay.
Republicans and the oil and gas industry had strongly backed Keystone from the get-go, claiming it would create jobs, lower the price of gas, and bolster American energy security. Democrats — fueled by a vocal grassroots backlash against the project — have questioned how many jobs the pipeline would create, while arguing it would have grave effects on the climate.
Keystone was a major issue in the 2012 elections, when Republicans used it to attack Obama’s record on the economy. On several occasions, congressional Republicans have tried to pass bills approving the pipeline; such an effort was met with Obama’s veto pen earlier this year. And, more often than not, Keystone was deployed as a litmus test for both sides to assess where their candidates stood on the economy and climate — and a weapon to bludgeon them if they didn’t take a position.
In Friday’s press conference, Obama sought to downplay the importance of the pipeline, saying it played an “overinflated role in our political discourse.” Keystone, he said, is “neither a silver bullet for the economy nor an express lane to climate disaster.” Indeed, a State Department report found that the pipeline would support 42,000 temporary jobs but only create 35 permanent ones, and numerous experts have observed that Canadian oil has many other methods of getting to market in the absence of Keystone.
Congress reacts predictably
But in Congress, the day’s news was an opportunity to revisit the past eight years’ talking points. Minnesota’s members of Congress reacted predictably, with Republicans taking the White House to task and some Democrats — but not all — applauding the news.
Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen said in a statement he was “disappointed that a project that would support thousands of U.S. jobs, increase safety for Minnesota communities, and add billions of dollars to the American economy will be blocked,” adding it fell victim to “politics as usual in Washington.”
Second District Rep. John Kline echoed Paulsen’s disappointment, adding that the pipeline would have “free[d] up transportation infrastructure in Minnesota, opening our rails to ship other products and crops produced in our great state.”
Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer had perhaps the strongest words on Friday. In a statement, Emmer argued Obama sided with special interests over the will of American people, the Canadian government, and Congress. “The Keystone XL pipeline would be a safe and efficient means of transporting up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the United States daily…This decision puts American industry and consumers at a competitive disadvantage and the President knows it.”
For progressive Democrats like Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison, Obama’s decision is “great news for our climate, which means it’s great news for all Americans.”
“The pipeline would have endangered our land and water, and the fuel flowing through it would have been a major contributor to climate change,” Ellison said in a statement. “Rejecting Keystone is a step toward a safer planet for us today and a safer planet for our kids tomorrow.”
Ellison’s Progressive Caucus colleague, Eighth District Rep. Rick Nolan, took a different view of Obama’s announcement. In a statement, he said he was “disappointed in today’s announcement… The bipartisan, compromise legislation passed by the Congress earlier this year would have put an end to almost seven years of gridlock, [and] required Keystone to comply with tough U.S. environmental protections.”
Nolan, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the current oil transportation infrastructure is harmful and dangerous. “We’ve got to find a safer way — and more environmentally friendly — way to transport this oil. And in my judgment, and in the judgment of many, pipelines made with American iron ore and steel are the best way to do it,” he said.
In a short statement, Sen. Al Franken didn’t exactly cheer the decision, saying that he would respects the government’s review process, though he added that took too long. “Since that process determined that the project is not in the national interest, I agree that it should not move forward,” he said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar suggested in a statement that it was time to move on: “Now that the administration has made a decision, it is time for Congress and the administration to focus on making long-term investments in American infrastructure and saving energy costs by passing both the pending energy bill and the Senate-passed infrastructure bill.”
Friday’s announcement effectively puts Keystone to bed for the rest of the Obama presidency, but if a Republican wins the White House next year the Canadian oil company TransCanada can apply again to build Keystone.