President Obama is going to personally make the decision whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and is concerned about the health and environmental risks of the project, he told a Nebraska reporter yesterday. In his interview with KETV’s Rob McCartney, Obama said he would weigh the short-term economic benefit of construction employment against the health and environmental risks associated with the tar sands pipeline that would stretch across the heartland from Canada to Texas:
The State Department’s in charge of analyzing this, because there’s a pipeline coming in from Canada. They’ll be giving me a report over the next several months, and, you know, my general attitude is, what is best for the American people? What’s best for our economy both short term and long term? But also, what’s best for the health of the American people? Because we don’t want, for example, aquifers that are adversely affected, folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted, and so we want to make sure that we’re taking the long view on these issues.
We need to encourage domestic natural gas and oil production. We need to make sure that we have energy security and aren’t just relying on Middle East sources. But there’s a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected, and that’s how I’ll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me.
Asked about jobs, Obama noted that the health and environmental risks carry economic impacts themselves:
I think 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 that our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health or if rich land that’s so important to agriculture in Nebraska ends up being adversely affected.” Because those create jobs, and you know, when somebody gets sick that’s a cost that the society has to bear as well. So these are all things that you have to take a look at when you make these decisions.
The U.S. State Department’s jobs analysis estimates that the Keystone XL pipeline would temporarily employ about 5,000 people, most of whom are likely to already be Canadian company TransCanada’s employees.
“This certainly sounds like the president is giving himself rhetorical room to delay the decision (to do a better environmental impact statement or examine alternative routes) or kill the pipeline outright,” Joe Romm responded at Climate Progress.
“This appears to be major and welcome news,” Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica responded. “People from all 50 states were arrested in Washington this August protesting the pipeline and they will be coming back to the White House this Sunday because this pipeline is also a conduit for climate change,” 350.org founder Bill McKibben said in a statement.