Pipeline pressure piling up on Obama
President Barack Obama is coming under increasing pressure here to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. And it's not just from political opponents.
Industry associations and even organized labour are ramping up efforts to force the president's hand heading into November's election.
Some supporters of the $7-billion project want Obama to approve it before his State of the Union address to Congress Jan. 24.
And Republican lawmakers in Congress, who are making the pipeline a legislative priority for the upcoming session, are even drafting legislation that could wrestle away control of the Keystone file from the White House.
North Dakota Senator John Hoeven is reportedly drafting a bill that, if approved by the courts, would allow Congress to approve Keystone under a constitutional provision that empowers Congress, not the White House, to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
Hoeven, who penned the Keystone provision in the payroll tax cut extension bill late last year that forces the White House to decide on the project in 60 days, is keen for the pipeline to be built to transport shale oil out of his state.
"We believe that express authority in the Constitution gives Congress the ability to approve and move forward on such a project," Ryan Bernstein, an energy advisor to Hoeven, told Reuters.
But the move by Congress is likely just a backup plan in case the Obama administration says no to the deal. The State Department and the White House have been hinting any effort to speed up the latest environmental review ordered by Obama, which effectively punted the issue off the agenda until after November's election, could result in a rejection of the project.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday any effort to circumvent the approval process for Keystone would be "counterproductive.
"There is a reason why this process has within it the duration required to properly review all the different aspects of a project like this, and to weigh all the different criteria," Carney told reporters. He added it was too early to comment on the Republican plan to have Congress green-light the project and bypass the White House.
"There's several layers of speculation about legislation that may or may not be written, that may or may not be submitted, that may or may not be voted on," Carney said.
Polls late last year showed about 60% of Americans favour building the $7-billion pipeline that would ship about 700,000 barrels of crude oil from Alberta's oilsands to refineries in the U.S. on the Gulf of Mexico.
Stakeholder groups including labour unions -- a key Democrat constituency -- are ramping up pressure in the public sphere, too, with a polished television ad and an open letter to the president, urging him to approve the project for the jobs it would create and the energy security it would provide.
More than 100 groups jointly penned the letter to Obama this week, praising the pipeline as a "shovel-ready" project that would create 2,000 jobs right away and as many as 500,000 indirect jobs by 2035. They estimate it would also add $775 billion to the U.S. economy by then, too.
The letter stresses increasing oil imports from Canada's oilsands would also give America greater energy security, which they say is essential now with the situation in the Middle East and the Strait of Hormuz so uncertain.
The American Petroleum Institute is airing a polished television ad in key swing states -- Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska -- that urges Obama to stay true to his word and get the economy back on track.
The ad quotes Obama saying, "I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track," and adds now is "his chance."