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
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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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