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Keystone Pipeline/Meghan Schiller/MEDILL

The map of the proposed pipeline that must now be reworked to avoid Nebraska's Sandhills, one of the largest natural areas in the U.S.

Obama rejects controversial pipeline plan

by Meghan Schiller
Jan 18, 2012

The White House announced Wednesday that it is rejecting a proposal for a controversial oil pipeline, saying it is not in the national interest. President Obama criticized Republicans in Congress saying that the 60-day period allotted by the bill is an inadequate amount of time to evaluate the plans. Still, the State Department said it could approve the pipeline in the future if Canadian oil giant TransCanada Co. avoids the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sandhills.

“The rushed and arbitrary deadline set by congressional Republicans didn’t allow a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact,” President Obama said in a statement.

The disappointment hits home with U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL). “I am disappointed that the president chose to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Keystone would have created thousands of jobs in Illinois, 20,000 nationwide and reduced our dependence on Middle Eastern oil,” Kirk said in a Facebook post.

The 1,700-mile Keystone pipeline would run from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, bisecting the country. Obama’s “no” comes in the midst of an ongoing heated argument, but it will by no means stop the debate.

“This is not the end of the fight,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner. “We are going to continue to push this. It is good for our country and our economy, and it's good for the American people, especially those looking for work.”

The election-year fight over the Keystone pipeline’s necessity and safety leaves both supporters and enemies engaged in a war of words.

Proponents of the pipeline say it will pump out more than just oil. The potential creation of blue-collar jobs could stimulate the American economy and contribute to energy independence.

The towns and cities that the pipes run through would be most affected. The pipeline, capable of carrying 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day, would cut across Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

But opponents--made up mostly of environmentalists, young people and those who live in affected towns--fiercely argue that the climate-damaging emissions that will result aren’t worth the job creation.

“We thank the president for listening to the concerns of American farmers, landowners and people who care about clean air, clean water and our climate future,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Both sides are taking to media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook.

“They call us names when we are not on board for their greedy little fingers to reach into our pockets and play a gamble with our environment,” posted Chris Edgett, creator of the Facebook group “Stop TransCanada Keystone Pipeline,” which has 142 members.

A wave of television advertisements has been devoted to the topic, including one recently released by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s largest trade group.

American Petroleum Institute/ Meghan Schiller/ MEDILL

Watch a television commercial that aired in Chicago Wednesday about the Keystone pipeline.

“There will be political fallout to this decision,” said Jack Gerard, API’s president and CEO, in a media call. “There are a number of Democrats in his own party that are not happy with this choice. Their constituents are being put on the back burner and told ‘wait.’”

Gerard said the Obama administration’s decision must be carefully examined. Several polls show Americans support the pipes as a way to restart the economy and put it back on track, he said.

“It’s a clear lack of leadership,” said Gerard. “He’s moved away from an opportunity to create jobs and now we question his interest to put the economy back on track.”

As expected, Republican presidential candidates also are seizing the opportunity to criticize Obama’s decision. Even some Democratic congressmen such as Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) expressed hope that the president would reconsider.

“This is something that I think is a big mistake to turn down the ability to create jobs in this country by tens of thousands,” said Altmire. “[The pipeline] is going to get built one way or another. Whether it’s down their own West Coast and exports would go to China or if it’s to our own Gulf Coast, it’s still going to built so why not have it benefit Americans?”