With some labor unions on one side and environmentalists lobbying on the other, Democrats are still split over the massive Keystone XL pipeline TransCanada has proposed and are pressuring the White House on both sides. The State Department has overseen TransCanada’s permit application to build the pipeline and supports the project, but final approval rests with President Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) weighed in for the first time on Oct. 5 in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioning the 1,700-mile project that would stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast:
“The proponents of this pipeline would be wiser to invest instead in job-creating clean energy projects, like renewable power, energy efficiency or advanced vehicles and fuels that would employ thousands of people in the United States rather than increasing our dependency on unsustainable supplies of dirty and polluting oil that could easily be exported,” Reid wrote.
But after the bankruptcy of Solyndra — a solar energy company — Stephen Brown, vice president of federal government affairs for oil refiner Tesoro, asked why Reid would even focus on renewable energy instead of oil. “It will come as a shock to the tens of thousands of professional skilled American refinery workers, many of whom are union members, that their jobs do not have the same cachet as politically correct ‘green jobs’ in Solyndra-like endeavors,” Brown said.
In contrast to Reid’s letter, 22 House Democrats sent a letter to Obama asking him to support the Keystone XL project because of the jobs it could create:
[T]he Keystone XL Pipeline will inject $20 billion of private sector investment into the American economy, create 20,000 direct jobs, spur the creation of 118,000 spin-off jobs, payout $5 billion in taxes to local counties over the project’s lifetime, bolster America’s energy security and strengthen our national security. [...] We are confident that the Department of State’s review process and the project operator’s commitment to employing well-trained union workers will yield the most appropriately routed, safest and environmentally sound pipeline in our nation.
Out of the entire House Democratic Caucus, 22 members is hardly a majority, and most who signed onto the letter are moderate Blue Dog Democrats. And the State Department estimates that the pipeline will create fewer jobs than TransCanada has estimated, with many being temporary positions. The environmental risks for a pipeline crossing the United States and Canada also could be much higher than previous assumed, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Previously, former Vice President Al Gore has pushed for Obama to block the pipeline, and Gov. Dave Heineman (R-NE) has said he opposes the pipeline because of the risk it would pose to one of his state’s major water supplies.