The Keystone XL Pipeline was the biggest environmental controversy of President Barack Obama's second term. The administration was weighing claims by supporters who argued that construction of Keystone XL Pipeline would create thousands of new jobs, and opponents who claimed the pipeline would result in environmental catastrophe and increased pollution leading to global warming.
Background of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project
The Keystone XL Pipeline project is being undertaken by the Canadian pipeline company TransCanada. The Keystone XL Pipeline is only one phase of a project to carry oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Keystone XL Pipeline would carry oil across 1,179 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska. Estimates have placed the cost of building the pipeline at $7.6 billion.
Why the White House is Involved
The federal government is involved in the approval process for the Keystone XL Pipeline because it is an international project that crosses the border with Canada. Specifically, the Department of State is responsible for determining whether a pipeline project would serve the "national interest."
The Department of State weighs a number of issues before granting a permit. They include energy security, health, the environment, cultural issues, the economic impact, and foreign policy concerns.
TransCanada submitted its most recent application to the Department of State for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline on May 4, 2012. Congress has no say in approving the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Political Pressure From Both Sides
Obama and his administration have been under intense pressure from environmentalists to kill the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Critics argue that fuel from the Canadian tar sands is far more dirty and damaging to the environment than ordinary oil, and that any pipeline spills would have devastating consequences to farmland and drinking water. The Keystone XL Pipeline would cross more than 1,000 water bodies.
Supporters of the Keystone XL Pipeline argue that it will benefit the economy in several ways, primarily by creating new jobs during the construction phase and reducing the nation's reliance on oil from the Middle East. Some have also argued that the new supply of oil would help reduce the cost of gasoline used in cars, a claim that has been disputed.
What Obama Has Said About the Oil Pipeline
After winning a second term in the 2012 presidential election, Obama promised to spend much of the following four years in the White House trying to address the causes of global warming.
"And I am a firm believer that climate change is real. That it is impacted by human behavior, and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it," Obama said.
But a few months into his second term, Obama admitted that the politics of climate change were "tough." Americans were struggled to pay their bills and hang onto their jobs and cared less about the environment, he said.
"If you haven't seen a raise in a decade; if your house is still $25,000, $30,000 underwater; if you're just happy that you've still got that factory job that is powered by cheap energy; if every time you go to fill up your old car because you can't afford to buy a new one ... you may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it's probably not rising to your number-one concern. And if people think, well, that's shortsighted, that's what happens when you're struggling to get by."
Published reports of Obama's remarks said the president appeared to be leaning toward approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
In March 2012, Obama traveled to Cushing, Oklahoma, to talk about domestic energy policy. During his appearance there he expressed support for the southern section of pipeline and explained that his concerns about the northern section had to do with the safety of routing the pipeline through an area of Nebraska that supplied drinking water for an estimated 2 million Americans.
He indicated he was satisfied with plans for the southern stretch of pipeline.
"I'm directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done," Obama said.