President Obama hinted on Thursday that he is open to eventually approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, prompting immediate and fiery push-back from environmental groups.
At a speech in Cushing, Okla., the oil-pipeline hub of the nation, Obama acknowledged that he has come under political fire for rejecting the northern portion of the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline, which would bring oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast.
But he said, “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.”
The president also confirmed that his administration will expedite permitting of the pipeline's southern portion from Cushing to the Gulf Coast. The White House announced in February that it enthusiastically supported the southern leg as a way to ease the current bottleneck in Cushing because there is inadequate capacity to move oil from storage facilities there to refineries on the coast.
Obama said he had rejected the northern portion of the pipeline because of worries that it could damage water supplies in Nebraska; the company planning to build the pipeline, TransCanada, is preparing to resubmit plans for a new route.
But the main objection that environmentalists have to the project is that it creates a market for tar-sands oil, which contributes far more to climate change than conventional oil production.
Bill McKibben, the founder of the environmental group 350.org, who led protests at the White House last summer that were credited with pressuring Obama to reject the pipeline, renewed his criticism of the Keystone project on Thursday.
“Barack Obama has done a little more than his predecessors about climate change,” McKibben said. “But nowhere near enough. And no movie producer, 50 years from now, will be able to resist a scene that explains the depth of our addiction to oil: the president coming to the state that just recorded the hottest summer in American history, in the very week that the nation has seen the weirdest heat wave in its history, and promising not to slow down climate change but instead to speed up the building of pipelines.”