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

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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