Keystone Likely to Be Missing From Obama’s Speech, but Visible Before and After

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Protesters against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline hold placards across the street from where US President Barack Obama attends a Democratic Party fundraising event in San Francisco, California, on November 25, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clare Foran
Jan. 27, 2014, 3:36 p.m.

Though the pres­id­ent is not likely to tip his hand on the Key­stone XL pipeline dur­ing his State of the Uni­on ad­dress on Tues­day, op­pon­ents and sup­port­ers of the pro­ject are go­ing the ex­tra mile to make their voices heard ahead of the agenda-set­ting speech.

En­vir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists have long held that ap­prov­al of the pipeline, which would trans­port crude from oil sands in Al­berta, Canada, to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies, would speed oil-sands de­vel­op­ment and spell dis­aster for the cli­mate. And green groups are pre­par­ing to drive that mes­sage home this week.

A co­ali­tion of en­vir­on­ment­al or­gan­iz­a­tions, in­clud­ing 350.org, the Na­tion­al Wild­life Fed­er­a­tion, and Friends of the Earth, will hold a demon­stra­tion against the pipeline on Tues­day af­ter­noon out­side the Cap­it­ol. Dur­ing the event, act­iv­ists will trot out a 100-yard in­flat­able pipeline in­scribed with the words “Cli­mate Cham­pi­on or Pipeline Pres­id­ent” in a bid to keep pres­sure on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­ject the pro­ject.

The pipeline’s north­ern ex­ten­sion is cur­rently un­der re­view at the State De­part­ment. Once State com­pletes its fi­nal en­vir­on­ment­al as­sess­ment of the pro­ject, however, Pres­id­ent Obama will have fi­nal say over wheth­er or not it gets built.

The pres­id­ent has said he will not ap­prove a per­mit for the pro­ject if it sig­ni­fic­antly adds to at­mo­spher­ic levels of car­bon di­ox­ide. But a de­cision on the pro­ject is still months away and Obama is un­likely to say any­thing that would move the needle on Key­stone — in either dir­ec­tion — dur­ing Tues­day’s speech.

“We’re an­ti­cip­at­ing that the Key­stone XL pipeline won’t make an ap­pear­ance in the State of the Uni­on, so we’re parad­ing it in front of Con­gress be­fore the speech to re­mind Pres­id­ent Obama that this is the key de­cision that will define his en­vir­on­ment­al leg­acy,” said Jam­ie Henn, a spokes­man for 350.org.

Nex­t­Gen Cli­mate Ac­tion, a polit­ic­al ad­vocacy group backed by bil­lion­aire en­vir­on­ment­al­ist Tom Stey­er, is also mak­ing a push against the pipeline. The group will run an ad on MS­N­BC an hour be­fore and after the pres­id­ent’s speech to reach between 3 mil­lion and 4 mil­lion view­ers.

The tele­vi­sion spot con­tends that if the pipeline is built Ca­na­dian oil will be trans­por­ted through the middle of Amer­ica and shipped off to for­eign buy­ers, with China at the head of the pack.

“Key­stone means more profit for in­vestors like China, more power for their eco­nom­ies, and more car­bon pol­lu­tion for the world,” the nar­rat­or’s voice in­tones, with a note of cyn­icism, adding: “Key­stone’s a suck­er’s deal for Amer­ica.”

Op­pon­ents of the pro­ject aren’t the only ones vy­ing for the pres­id­ent’s ear.

Last week, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans sent a let­ter to the White House ur­ging the pres­id­ent to move quickly to ap­prove the pipeline.

“Giv­en the length of time your ad­min­is­tra­tion has stud­ied the Key­stone XL pipeline and the pub­lic’s over­whelm­ing sup­port for it, you should not fur­ther delay a de­cision to is­sue a pres­id­en­tial per­mit,” the sen­at­ors wrote.

House con­ser­vat­ives chimed in Monday with a sim­il­ar mes­sage.

“The pres­id­ent has delayed ac­tion on this job pro­ject for years, buck­ing bi­par­tis­an sup­port for the pro­ject among Con­gress and the Amer­ic­an people,” said a blog post on the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee web­site. “It has now been over five years since the pipeline ap­plic­a­tion was sub­mit­ted, and frus­tra­tion is grow­ing over the pres­id­ent’s in­ac­tion.”

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