Why President Obama's comments on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline matter

Of course, it was no surprise to President Obama that he would get the question on Nebraska television about the Keystone XL tars ands pipeline.  The issue is top of mind for Nebraskans most of whom oppose the pipeline.  But rather than punt the question and hand the controversy back to the State Department, he spoke for several minutes about the issue.  He was ready for the question, willing to engage, and most importantly indicated he would take ownership over the final decision as my colleague Susan Casey-Lefkowitz said today.   The President must carefully consider all of the valid concerns about this pipeline - about how it is incompatible with our climate and energy goals and that it presents a major risk of water and land contamination from a pipeline spill.   When all of the evidence is considered President Obama can make only one decision: that the pipeline is not in our national interest and must be rejected. 

What made the news yesterday was Obama’s clear message that he wasn’t going to leave the decision with the State Department - a clear retreat from  comments made on Monday by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney who said the decision was one that would be made by the State Department. But instead, yesterday President Obama said:

They will be giving me a report over the next several months and my general attitude is: What is best for the American people? What is best for our economy both short-term and long-term?.... I’ll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me.

But the import of the comments didn’t stop there.  While he could have easily said he would not dive into the specific issues around the pipeline, he waded right into the sea of controversy. He raised the question of energy security viewed by some as a trump card in favor of approving the pipeline.  It is the basis on which the State Department has approved previous tar sands pipelines.  But President Obama clearly indicated energy security doesn’t trump the health and safety of the American people.

We need to make sure that we have energy security and aren’t just relying on Middle East sources. But there’s a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected.

In fact, Keystone XL won’t bring the U.S. energy security – quite the opposite. A report released today by the U.S. Military Advisory Board confirms that bringing more tar sands oil into the United States does not solve our oil dependence problem.  The study, Ensuring America's Freedom of Movement: a National Security Imperative to Reduce America's Oil Dependence argues America can’t insulate itself by getting oil from friendly sources such as Canada or even by increasing domestic drilling. One of the authors of the report Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, a former U.S. Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, was quoted as saying "We really can't differentiate in a realistic way between oil from Venezuela or Iran or Canada" driving home the point that a disruption in oil supplies anywhere in the world drives up the price of oil.

President Obama also confronted the sticky issue of job creation.  But in these comments, he acknowledged something very significant: that there would be relatively few jobs created by the project compared with claims being made by TransCanada. Responding to the reporter’s question, “Do the potential for jobs playing to play into the equation at all for you?” the President said:

You know, it does but I think folks in Nebraska like all across the country aren’t going to say to themselves we’ll take a few thousand jobs if it means that our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health.

TransCanada has claimed there would be more than 20,000 jobs created but in fact the pipeline will bring less than 5,000 temporary construction jobs.

Of course, these comments didn’t indicate his leanings on the final decision on the pipeline nor should it.  As the President considers the evidence on this pipeline, he will need to consider criticism that has been leveled at the pipeline by the Environmental Protection Agency in July 2010 and June 2011.  He will need to consider questions that have been raised by members of Congress about the flawed environmental assessment issued by the State Department.  He will need to consider allegations over conflict of interest and bias allegations in the completion of the environmental assessment of the project also a concern by members of Congress.

And he will need to consider the unprecedented public opposition to this pipeline including the National Farmers Union, Transport Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, National Congress of American Indians, mayors, scientists, Nobel Peace Laureates, landowners, dozens of members of Congress.

Yesterday, President Obama took the first step asserting the necessary leadership on what is clearly a national decision.  This is especially true given the revelations that the State Department has not been objective and has not taken the real cost of the pipeline into account.  Once he reviews all of the facts, he can only come to one decision: that Keystone XL is not in the national interest.  This pipeline will take the country away from its energy security and environmental goals and put millions of Americans at risk for water and land contamination. 

Send a letter to President Obama to ask him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Go to www.stoptar.org.