Obama: Forget Keystone, Pass an Infrastructure Bill

President Obama arrives to speak on March 22, 2012 at the TransCanada Stillwater pipe yard in Cushing, Oklahoma. Obama spoke about the Keystone XL pipeline and his energy policies. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
National Journal
Jason Plautz
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Jason Plautz
Jan. 20, 2015, 4:11 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama needled con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans for their early fo­cus on the Key­stone XL pipeline in his State of the Uni­on ad­dress Tues­day, say­ing that Con­gress should in­stead be work­ing on a long-term in­fra­struc­ture bill.

“Twenty-first-cen­tury busi­nesses need twenty-first-cen­tury in­fra­struc­ture”Š — “Šmod­ern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fast­est In­ter­net. Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans used to agree on this,” Obama said.

“So let’s set our sights high­er than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bi­par­tis­an in­fra­struc­ture plan that could cre­ate more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this coun­try stronger for dec­ades to come,” he ad­ded.

The Re­pub­lic­an Con­gress has made ap­prov­al of the Key­stone XL oil sands pipeline an early pri­or­ity, with the House passing a bill in its first week and the Sen­ate cur­rently de­bat­ing amend­ments to its own ver­sion. That’s des­pite a prom­ise by the White House to veto the bill be­cause it would cir­cum­vent the White House’s nor­mal re­view pro­cess. Obama has also been in­creas­ingly skep­tic­al of the Al­berta-to-Gulf Coast pipeline in pub­lic, not­ing its po­ten­tial cli­mate im­pact while down­play­ing the eco­nom­ic be­ne­fits.

Mean­while, law­makers on both sides of the aisle have called for con­sid­er­a­tion of a long-term trans­port­a­tion bill, which sup­port­ers say would cre­ate jobs, stir the eco­nomy, and fix the coun­try’s crum­bling roads and bridges. Passing such a meas­ure — which would re­quire a new fund­ing stream to re­place the dwind­ling gas tax — has proven dif­fi­cult in re­cent years.

Obama’s tweak of the pipeline fo­cus mir­rors that of sev­er­al Sen­ate Demo­crats, who have said the pipeline pro­ject would cre­ate far few­er than the thou­sands of jobs Re­pub­lic­ans and pipeline sup­port­ers have prom­ised.

In her open­ing state­ment at a com­mit­tee markup on the pipeline bill, pro­gress­ive star Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren, D-Mass., asked mem­bers “What if we fo­cus on high­ways in­stead of pipelines?”

The pro­ject did mer­it a men­tion in the Re­pub­lic­an re­sponse, with Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst say­ing the pipeline could “sup­port thou­sands of jobs and pump bil­lions in­to our eco­nomy, and do it with min­im­al en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact,” cit­ing the State De­part­ment. Ernst said Re­pub­lic­ans were work­ing across the aisle to pass the “Key­stone jobs bill” and said Obama “will soon have a de­cision to make: will he sign the bill, or block good Amer­ic­an jobs?”

The State De­part­ment’s 2014 En­vir­on­ment­al Im­pact State­ment did es­tim­ate that con­struc­tion of the pipeline would con­trib­ute $3.4 bil­lion to the gross do­mest­ic product while cre­at­ing more than 42,000 dir­ect, in­dir­ect and in­duced jobs. Of those jobs, however, only 3,900 would be in con­struc­tion (many tem­por­ary) and op­er­a­tion of the pipeline would only sup­port 35 per­man­ent jobs and 15 tem­por­ary ones.

Ernst also said that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans sup­port con­struc­tion of the Key­stone XL pipeline. Re­cent polling sug­gests that Amer­ic­an sup­port is slip­ping, however, and an NBC News/ Wall Street Journ­al sur­vey re­leased on Tues­day re­por­ted that only 41 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans want to see the pipeline built.

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