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Keystone pipeline decision stirs political waters

By JERRY HAGSTROM

In signals of the complicated politics surrounding President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the application for construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline through Nebraska, the Obama-Biden campaign sent supporters an email promoting the decision, while Heidi Heidtkamp, the Democratic candidate to replace retiring Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., sent Obama a letter asking him to reverse the decision.

At the insistence of Republicans, the bill that extended payroll tax relief for two months included a provision requiring Obama to make a decision on Keystone within 60 days. Republicans believe that forcing Obama to make a decision will help their 2012 campaigns, but political analysts also noted that the short time frame gave Obama the chance to shore up his relationship with environmentalists, who have complained he has not been tough enough.

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama
“This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” Obama said in making the announcement Thursday.

“I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil,” Obama said.

“Under my administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down. In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security —including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico — even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas.

“And we will do so in a way that benefits American workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the American people and the environment.”

In an email soon after, the Obama-Biden campaign wrote, "The State Department just rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline after congressional Republicans put it on an irresponsible and arbitrary timeline. Our opponents are fighting hard against this decision to put our safety and sound science first. The Obama administration did the right thing by refusing to green-light a project before experts could determine the consequences. After all, there was a lot at stake: the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline would have run over one of the Midwest's largest sources of fresh drinking water.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify about the decision next week, but the State Department announced that it would send Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, who has been in charge of the decision that involved State because the pipeline crosses a national border.

Environmentalists praised the decision.

Noah Greenwald
Noah Greenwald
“President Obama made the right decision in denying the Keystone XL pipeline today,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Keystone XL pipeline would have prolonged our dependence on dirty fossil fuels that are polluting our air, land and water, and kept us from stabilizing the climate by moving to a clean energy future,” Greenwald said. “The decision has already come under attack by Republicans, claiming it will cost ‘tens of thousands’ of jobs. In fact, the State Department estimated that Keystone XL would result in just 20 permanent, operational jobs in the United States and 2,500 to 4,650 temporary jobs."

A series of Republicans criticized the decision, but most of them came from states that did not support Obama in 2008 and are unlikely to support him this year.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.
“The president apparently lacks faith in Nebraska’s ability to select a route,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

The legislation Congress passed in December required the president to approve or reject the non-Nebraska portions of the pipeline within 60 days, while leaving Nebraska time to determine its route.

“By arguing that the Nebraska route could force them to deny the permit, he’s implying Nebraska can't get it right,” Johanns said.

“There is no legitimate justification for the delay. To suggest a few dozen miles of the route in Nebraska — which will be identified by the governor, consistent with the law — affects the overall public interest for more than 1,600 miles of pipeline is laughable and reeks of political gamesmanship. The president says he wants to help create jobs, but when presented with an opportunity to create tens of thousands of jobs in middle America, he turns his head. This is pure politics aimed at not riling up his base during an election year.”

Most congressional Democrats ignored the issue, although Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats, said, “The president made the correct decision today in rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, and I will fight to ensure Congress does not overturn the decision.”

But that left Democrats in affected states running for re-election or election in a difficult position.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
“I am disappointed in the president’s decision,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is in a tough re-election race.

“Just as I have supported Montana’s renewable energy jobs, I have long supported responsibly building this pipeline with the highest safety standards and with respect for private property rights,” Tester said. “Oil, coal, natural gas, wind, geothermal and biofuels all provide good jobs in Montana. I will continue to champion Montana’s role in securing America’s energy future.”

Heidtkamp told reporters in a call that the pipeline would have helped North Dakota because it would have allowed oil from the Bakken formation there to be blended with oil from the Tar Sands in Alberta.

She also said the pipeline would have helped reduce traffic in western North Dakota, where oil is now being transported by truck.

Heidi Heidtkamp
Heidi Heidtkamp
“It’s absolutely critical,” Heidtkamp said. “We don’t have the infrastructure to move the oil.”

She said she worries that the pipeline will be constructed west of North Dakota and move the oil in that direction.

Heidtkamp, a former state attorney general who is running for Conrad’s seat against Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., said that if elected she would work with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to see that the pipeline is constructed.

She also noted that Conrad had voted for the legislation requiring the decision within 60 days. The decision, she said, was typical of problems in Washington, adding that "predictability in business" is a top issue in her campaign.