As Keystone XL Pipeline Clears One Hurdle, WH Hints at Further Delay

Susan Jones | February 3, 2014 | 7:02am EST
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President Barack Obama visits  TransCanada's Stillwater Pipe Yard in Cushing, Okla., Thursday, March, 22, 2012. The company wants to build an extension of that pipeline, which would cross the U.S.-Canada border. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

( - The U.S. State Department on Friday released yet another "final" environmental impact statement that finds no major objection to the Keystone XL pipeline -- a project that would contribute approximately $3.4 billion to the U.S. economy and create 42,100 jobs, according to the State Department's own report.

So why won't President Obama approve the job-creating project that's been in limbo since 2008? White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough repeatedly dodged that question Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"So is this thing ready to be greenlighted by the president? What would hold him back from saying, yes, the Keystone pipeline should be built, should go forward?" David Gregory asked  McDonough on Sunday.

"He laid out his view on this last summer, which is that -- his view is that, if this is to go forward, it should not significantly exacerbate the climate crisis in this country," McDonough replied.

"Right," Gregory said. "Didn't the State Department answer that and said it won't?"

McDonough said the State Department report is "important to that process. We'll hear from other Cabinet secretaries." He then noted that the U.S. is now producing more oil than it imports.

"You didn't answer my question," Gregory said.

McDonough pointed to a news report about the "terrible drought in the West" which he blamed on "climate change." "So we're going to obviously resolve the Keystone question, but that's one in a much bigger issue...climate."

Gregory tried again, asking McDonough to "just indulge me -- what would stop (Obama) from saying yes at this point, given his own State Department saying there's not a big impact on the climate, from doing this?"

McDonough replied that Obama is going to "insulate this process from politics."

"I didn't ask about politics. You got a State Department study," Gregory said.

"We have one department with a study," McDonough agreed. "Now we have other expert agencies -- the EPA and many others -- who have an -- the Energy Department -- an opportunity to look at this and make their determination. The president wants to protect their ability to do that, make this decision based on the best analysis and most sound science."

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would run 875 miles fro Alberta, Canada, crossing the border near Morgan, Montana and continuing through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect to existing pipelines near Steele City, Nebraska.

The State Department said the final environmental impact statement released on Friday "is not a decisional document on whether to approve or deny the project." It described the environmental report as "a technical assessment of the potential environmental impacts related to the proposed pipeline."

The report responds to 1.9 million comments received since June 2012, and it includes an expanded analysis of potential oil releases; an expanded climate change analysis; an updated oil market analysis; and an expanded analysis of rail transport.

According to the State Department, the permitting process will now focus on whether the Keystone XL project "serves the national interest," which requires consultation with the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency.

National interest considerations include energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations and issues, the State Department said.

If the proposed pipeline extension is found to serve the national interest, it will be granted a presidential permit authorizing its construction.

TransCanada's first application for the Keystone XL pipeline was submitted on September 19, 2008, two months before Barack Obama was elected president. Since then, Obama repeatedly has said his goal is to create jobs and get the economy moving.

According to the State Department's own report, "Construction of the proposed Project would contribute approximately $3.4 billion to the U.S. GDP. This figure includes not only earnings by workers, but all other income earned by businesses and individuals engaged in the production of goods and services demanded by the proposed Project, such as profits, rent, interest, and dividends. When compared with the GDP in 2012, the proposed Project’s contribution represents approximately 0.02 percent of annual economic activity across the nation."

Moreover, the State Department says, “Construction spending would support a combined total of approximately 42,100 jobs (positions that are filled for at least one year) throughout the United States for the up to 2-year construction period.”

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