By JACKIE CALMES, New York Times, March 22, 2012
RIPLEY, Okla. — President Obama stood in a red-dirt field before acres of stacked pipeline pieces on Thursday to illustrate his support for expedited construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But his public declaration for the project pleased neither the industry and its Republican allies nor environmentalists.
President Obama voiced his support for expedited construction of the southern half of the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Thursday in Ripley, Okla. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
That was clear hours later when several people interrupted his next speech, shouting “Stop the pipeline!” at Ohio State University, where Mr. Obama emphasized clean-fuel alternatives in his “all of the above” energy agenda.
Mr. Obama’s first appearance here near Cushing, Okla., an oil town known in the industry as the nation’s pipeline crossroads, was intended to blunt two months of criticism of his decision in January to reject for now construction of the pipeline’s northern leg from Alberta, Canada, to Cushing. Those attacks from Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail gained resonance as gasoline prices spiked.
“Unfortunately, Congress decided they wanted their own timeline — not the company, not the experts, but members of Congress who decided this might be a fun political issue,” Mr. Obama told an invited audience of about 200 people.
“Today, we’re making this new pipeline from Cushing to the gulf a priority,” he said, while the northern portion requires additional review.
“But the fact is that my administration has approved dozens of new oil and gas pipelines over the last three years, including one from Canada,” Mr. Obama added. “And as long as I’m president, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure, and we’re going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.”
Environmentalists nationwide have rallied to oppose the entire pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, because its owner, TransCanada, wants to transport what environmental groups consider dirty oil from the tar sands of Alberta. They contend it would hasten climate change, threaten spills and pollute the air, water and wildlife.
While the southern leg is planned to relieve a bottleneck of oil from the Plains states awaiting shipment to gulf refineries and vessels, opponents say the pipeline would ultimately be used to transport tar sands oil, much of it for export globally, if TransCanada is permitted to build the northern half.
“In expediting the southern portion of Keystone XL, President Obama is trying to have it both ways,” said Becky Bond, political director of Credo Action, part of a coalition of environmental groups that issued a joint statement of opposition.
“The president needs to prove that his initial rejection of Keystone XL wasn’t simply a ploy to placate the environmental voters who dared to hold him to his own rhetoric about the need for real leadership on climate and our fossil fuel dependence,” Ms. Bond said.
For the pipeline to cross the border from Canada to the United States, the administration would have to approve a permit, a process that requires environmental studies. Mr. Obama rejected TransCanada’s initial path through Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer — a route many Nebraskans opposed — but the company plans to resubmit its application, with an alternate route.
As gasoline prices have risen to $4 a gallon nationwide, Republicans have stepped up their attacks on Mr. Obama’s decision, claiming it stands in the way of lower pump prices and thousands of construction jobs. The administration says that the critics’ job figures are inflated and that oil from the pipeline would not reach markets anytime soon.
Even before Mr. Obama reached Oklahoma on the last day of his two-day energy tour, Republicans were deriding the visit as a publicity stunt since the only federal permits the southern pipeline needs are ones typically handled by agency employees, not the president.
“After rejecting and personally lobbying against Keystone XL and thousands of new jobs, the president plans to tout that he’s now interjecting himself on behalf of a routine permit that is normally handled by bureaucrats,” aides to the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, wrote in a blog post. A Boehner spokesman, Brendan Buck, added, “This is like the governor holding a press conference to renew my driver’s license.”
Mr. Obama’s next stop, in Columbus, Ohio, was his last on a four-state swing to promote policies to reduce the nation’s energy consumption and reliance on foreign oil. Having toured the oil pipeline site and, on Wednesday, an oil-drilling field on federal lands in New Mexico, Mr. Obama toured Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research, a leading institute for advanced energy research. He inspected four advanced vehicles, including the 300-mile-an-hour electric Buckeye Bullet.
In remarks to more than 1,000 students, faculty members and local residents, Mr. Obama alluded to the recurring problem of gasoline-price spikes. “We can’t simply drill our way out of the problem,” he said, because the United States accounts for 20 percent of the world’s energy consumption but has 2 percent of the known oil reserves.
“As long as I’m president,” Mr. Obama said, “America is going to be pursuing an all-of-the-above energy strategy. Yes, we’ll develop as much oil and gas as we can, in a safe way, but we’re also going to develop wind power and solar power and advanced biofuels.”
“And we’ll do it by harnessing the same type of American ingenuity and imagination that’s on display right here at Ohio State,” he added.
While the crowd’s enthusiasm suggested a campaign rally, not all were won over. Jason E. Box, a climatologist and professor, called Mr. Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy “fundamentally flawed because it locks us in for decades” to continued reliance on polluting fuel sources.