House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized President Obama Monday for his comments praising TransCanada Corporation's continued efforts to build a 1,661-mile, $7.6 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada through the U.S. to the oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
The company on Monday announced it would try to proceed with one portion of the pipeline immediately, while re-submitting its application for the part the Obama administration has refused to approve.
"The President is so far on the wrong side of the American people that he's now praising the company's decision to start going around him," Boehner said in a statement to ABC News.
Boehner said the president "can't have it both ways. If the President thinks this project is good for America, he knows how to make it happen right away. Until he does, he's just standing in the way of getting it done."
The political twists and turns of the TransCanada Corporation's Keystone XL oil pipeline have woven their way through the debate about energy policy in the past six months. In November, the State Department announced it would delay a decision on the proposed Keystone project to allow for further study of the environmental impact along its 1,700-mile route. The president was stuck between environmentalists and many residents of Nebraska, who opposed the project due to concerns about how it would impact its water supply, and labor unions and others who heralded the jobs the pipeline would create.
TransCanada has said the project would create "more than 20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 spin off jobs during construction."
The State Department had a more conservative estimate, saying "the construction work force would consist of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 workers."
Last November, President Obama told ABC Omaha, Nebraska, TV station KETV, that "folks in Nebraska like all across the country aren't going to say to themselves, 'We'll take a few thousand jobs if it means our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health. We don't want, for example, aquifers to be adversely affected. Folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted."
In December, House Republicans inserted in a bill extending the payroll tax cut, a priority of the president's, a requirement that the president officially make a decision on the pipeline within two months. The president did so in January, rejecting the project because of the "rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans" which he said "prevented a full assessment of the pipeline's impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment." Republicans have seized on the issue as an example of the president putting the environment ahead of jobs.
Today TransCanada announced it would seek approval for one part of the pipeline, the part leading from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Texas refineries in the Gulf. The company said constructing that part of the pipeline would create roughly 4,000 jobs, both in construction and in supporting those workers, and cost $2.3 billion. The company said it hoped this smaller portion would be working by 2013.
In a statement, White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama "welcomes" the news. "As the President made clear in January, we support the company's interest in proceeding with this project," he said, "which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production, currently at an eight year high. Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production. We look forward to working with TransCanada to ensure that it is built in a safe, responsible and timely manner, and we commit to take every step possible to expedite the necessary Federal permits.
The company also contacted the U.S. State Department indicating it would re-apply for the rest of the project. Carney said "as we made clear, the President's decision in January in no way prejudged future applications. We will ensure any project receives the important assessment it deserves, and will base a decision to provide a permit on the completion of that review.
At the press briefing, Carney said that the president's rejection of the Keystone Pipeline "had nothing to do with the merits of a pipeline proposal, it was simply that, because of the decision by Republicans to play politics with this, it forced him - forced the administration to deny the permit request because there wasn't even a pipeline route identified."
Environmental groups assailed the group's announcement as "a ploy to avoid a review that will show how the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will raise U.S. oil prices, send tar sands overseas, endanger U.S. homes and waters, and contribute to worsening climate change," as Natural Resources Defense Council International Program director Susan Casey-Lefkowitz wrote in a blog post.
Last week, the Pew Research Center indicated that 63% of the public had heard at least a little about the Keystone project. Of those individuals, 66% believe that the government should approve the project.