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President Obama has finally begun to address the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, raising anti-pipeline activists’ hopes that he will halt the construction given environmental concerns.

Pipeline advocates argue that the project, which would stretch from the Canadian tar sands to Texas oil refineries, would create jobs and decrease dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Those opposing the pipeline contend that there is a high risk of leaks and that the tar sands oil releases more carbon than conventional crude oil. Additionally, concerns about a pro-industry bias in the State Department, which is responsible for approving the project, have increased pressure for Obama to take the matter into his own hands.

Obama discussed the issue in an interview Tuesday with the Omaha, Neb., station KETV:

“The State Department’s in charge of analyzing this, because there’s a pipeline coming in from Canada. They’ll be giving me a report over the next several months, and, you know, my general attitude is, what is best for the American people? What’s best for our economy both short term and long term? But also, what’s best for the health of the American people? Because we don’t want for examples aquifers, they’re adversely affected, folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted, and so we want to make sure we’re taking the long view on these issues.

“We need to encourage domestic oil and natural gas production. We need to make sure that we have energy security and aren’t just relying on Middle East sources. But there’s a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected, and that’s how I’ll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me.”

[When asked whether job growth would factor into his decision] “It does, but I think folks in Nebraska like all across the country aren’t going to say to themselves, ‘We’ll take a few thousand jobs if it means that our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health or rich land that’s so important to agriculture in Nebraska are being adversely affected,’ because those create jobs, and you know when somebody gets sick that’s a cost that the society has to bear as well. So these are all things that you have to take a look at when you make these decisions.”

These statements signify that the president is weighing both sides of the debate, and that he might succumb to pressure from environmental activists who have met him along the campaign trail and demand he take firm action to halt the project. Many of those activists are planning a mass demonstration outside the White House this weekend. Until Obama makes his final decision, the protests by activists and lobbying by the energy industry will only intensify.

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