Updated 1:10 p.m. | The White House is rejecting a Canadian company’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline, sounding a death knell for the controversial project that has long pitted President Barack Obama against Republicans and the energy industry.
Obama on Friday criticized members of both parties for treating the proposal like a “campaign cudgel instead of a serious policy matter.” Ultimately, the president said he concluded the plan was “neither the silver bullet” for the U.S. economy nor a sure-fire cause of “climate disaster” as claimed by those on either side of the issue.
Obama, flanked by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., told reporters “the pipeline would not make a meaningful contribution to our economy.” The president jabbed at Republican lawmakers, saying if they were serious about creating jobs, they should send him “a serious infrastructure plan” that would create 30 times as many jobs as the Keystone project would.
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What’s more, the president sided with the State Department’s assessment that the $8 billion oil sands project would not have lowered gas prices for drivers in the U.S., as its proponents proclaimed. He also said he concluded “shipping dirty crude oil” through the U.S. would not have increased America’s energy security. His policies are already doing both, Obama insisted.
Ahead of Obama’s White House remarks, Kerry briefed the president on his department’s recommendation to block TransCanada’s application for the project after years of reviewing technical and other aspects of the proposal.
Kerry concluded the pipeline “would not serve the national interests of the United States,” Obama said. “I agree with that.”
TransCanada and other proponents had lauded the economic benefits of the project, saying it would have created thousands of jobs and provided a jolt for the still-recovering U.S. economy. The actual job-creation level, however, was murky.
Project proponents once claimed it would deliver more than 100,000 jobs. But the State Department later brought that number down to around 4,000 — with only 35 permanent positions.
By rejecting the pipeline, Obama is siding with environment-minded experts and Democratic allies who believe it would reap ample environmental damage along its path from the U.S.-Canadian border to the Gulf Coast. He also handed GOP lawmakers and candidates who supported the project a new talking point ahead of the 2016 elections.
The administration and proponents of the pipeline have long sparred over the merits of launching the project, with each accusing the other side of politicizing the plan and a State Department review of it.
“When things that are worthy of technical consideration get politicized, that rarely speeds up the technical consideration,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said this week. “That … typically has the effect of slowing it down.”
Critics of the president who support the Keystone XL pipeline claimed Obama has done much of the politicizing.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis, called the decision “sickening” and said Obama is essentially squashing “tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.” Ryan’s statement accused the president of “catering to special interests,” and he said he intends to “pursue a bold agenda of growth and opportunity for all” as speaker.
“It’s become painfully clear that the President is more interested in appeasing deep-pocketed special interests and extremists than helping tens of thousands of Americans who could have benefited from Keystone’s good jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.
The powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce also expressed dissatisfaction with the announcement.
Lawmakers from states that would have hosted a section of the pipeline joined in the criticism of the Obama administration and those who, they claimed, tainted the process.
“After about seven years of exhaustive studies and delays, the administration finally made a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline — unfortunately, it made a decision purely driven by politics that ignored the facts,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a project proponent. “Political ideologies on both sides of the aisle amplified the Keystone XL pipeline into something well beyond its actual reality. As I have said time and time again — it’s a pipeline.”
The state’s other senator, Republican John Hoeven, urged his colleagues to join 63 members of the Senate who have expressed support for the TransCanada plan “so that we can override the president’s veto and approve the project congressionally.”
Prominent Democrats were quick to come to the White House’s defense.
“The State Department and President Obama made the right decision today,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement, calling the TransCanada project a “harmful project.” With the decision, Reid said Obama and Kerry — both former senators — “are further cementing their environmental legacy.”
Reid called for an energy plan that includes “clean, renewable energy projects with jobs that cannot be outsourced to foreign special interests.”