Barack Obama again wades into dispute over Keystone XL jobs

By William Marsden, Postmedia News July 31, 2013

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama has again plunged into the heated debate over the Keystone XL pipeline  claiming it is “not a jobs plan” and promoting the employment potential of renewable energy.

At the same time, however, U.S. State Department officials are claiming that his job figures on the $5.3 billion Keystone XL  project are wrong. Obama claims the project will create only about 2,000 construction jobs while the State Department says it is not budging from its much higher estimate of 42,000.

“I’m not aware of any change” to the numbers, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters, referring to the massive disconnect between Obama’s numbers and those of her department.

In a speech Tuesday in Tennessee, Obama ridiculed Keystone XL supporters for claiming it’s a huge job creator.

“They keep on talking about this — an oil pipeline coming down from Canada that’s estimated to create about 50 permanent jobs — that’s not a jobs plan,” he said while outlining his “grand bargain” for creating jobs and strengthening the middle class.

Obama originally kicked off the jobs controversy over Keystone XL when he disparaged its  job-creation potential in an interview published Saturday in The New York Times. He claimed the project would produce only 2,000 short-term jobs and 50 to 100 long-term jobs.

According to a draft review of the project by the State Department, the proposed pipeline will create 42,100 jobs, about 35 of them permanent, that will translate into more than $2 billion in earnings.

In another sign that Obama has possibly turned against Keystone, he also stated in his speech that the U.S. needs “to double down” on renewable energy “to keep creating good jobs in energy — in wind and solar and natural gas.”

He said renewables are reducing energy costs, carbon pollution and dependence on foreign oil.

Yet at the same time he stated the U.S. needs “modern power grids and pipelines to survive a storm.”

Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institute, said in an interview that Obama’s Tennessee speech “certainly seems to me to be a speech you would make if you were going to lead against Keystone.”

“I don’t think it augers well,” he said, but added that Obama “has made so many contradictory statements at this time that I wouldn’t hazard a guess where he is.”

“I have talked to friends in the administration and they are even perplexed,” he said. “I think there is a real division in the administration between the Environmental Protection Agency on the one hand and people in the energy department on the other.”

He noted that the new EPA director Gina McCarthy has been critical of Keystone in the past.

Obama is expected to make the final decision on Keystone XL in the fall. The pipeline, owned by Calgary-based TransCanada, will transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of carbon-heavy bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands and heavy oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota to Texas refineries.

[email protected]

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News