“This whole issue of the Keystone pipeline has generated a lot of controversy and a lot of politics,” Obama said at the time, but added, “We’re happy to review future permits. Today, we’re making the southern leg a priority. The northern portion, we’re going to have to review properly.”
Public support for the project is high. A March Gallup poll found that a solid majority of Americans — 57 percent — support construction of the pipeline, while just 29 percent oppose it.
The company that plans to build the pipeline, TransCanada, is confident that the administration will give them the go-ahead. “We continue to believe that the Keystone XL Pipeline will be approved,” TransCanada spokesman Grady Semmens told National Journal in an e-mail. “The facts that support the approval of Keystone XL remain the same—and the need for this pipeline grows even stronger the longer its approval is delayed.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also hopeful that Obama will approve the project. “The president has told me several times that he hasn’t yet made a decision, that he will follow the regulatory process in the United States, and evidently the next steps will be very soon, and I remain optimistic,” Harper said during a visit to India on Thursday, Reuters reported.
But the environmental groups that protested the pipeline last year are planning to reprise their demonstration in full force — and make a case to Obama that approving the project will destroy his chance to create a legacy on climate change. Bill McKibben, the activist who galvanized last year’s Keystone protests at the White House, is planning a second round on Nov. 18.
“This is the first big test of President Obama’s legacy,” McKibben told National Journal.
“We’ll find out what he actually thinks about this. We’re not letting up. This is our one big ask.”
McKibben acknowledged that with the election over, green groups no longer hold political leverage over the White House. But the environmentalists will appeal to what they believe are Obama’s core convictions on climate change. They’ll also remind him of how hard they worked to get him reelected. The League of Conservation Voters, for example, spent $14 million — more than the group has spent on the last three election cycles combined — in campaigning to support Obama and pro-environment Democrats in the House and Senate.
Green groups will also pay close attention to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role in the decision. “If she plays any part in it this, it is a test for her if she runs for president in 2016. We’ll remember,” McKibben said.