Obama Talks Keystone XL

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For the first time that I can remember, President Obama offered substantive remarks on the fate of the Keystone Pipeline:

NYT: A couple other quick subjects that are economic-related. Keystone pipeline — Republicans especially talk about that as a big job creator. You’ve said that you would approve it only if you could be assured it would not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon in the atmosphere. Is there anything that Canada could do or the oil companies could do to offset that as a way of helping you to reach that decision?

MR. OBAMA: Well, first of all, Michael, Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that that’s true. And my hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline — which might take a year or two — and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 [chuckles] jobs in a economy of 150 million working people.

NYT: Yet there are a number of unions who want you to approve this.

MR. OBAMA: Well, look, they might like to see 2,000 jobs initially. But that is a blip relative to the need.

So what we also know is, is that that oil is going to be piped down to the Gulf to be sold on the world oil markets, so it does not bring down gas prices here in the United States. In fact, it might actually cause some gas prices in the Midwest to go up where currently they can’t ship some of that oil to world markets.

Now, having said that, there is a potential benefit for us integrating further with a reliable ally to the north our energy supplies. But I meant what I said; I’m going to evaluate this based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere. And there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.

Somewhat worrisome for those of us who would like to see the pipeline get built. Perhaps to throw a bone to those who oppose the project, President Obama wildly low-balled the potential economic (jobs) impact. The Washington Post’s fact-checker took him to task, awarding him two-Pinocchios:

The Pinocchio Test

Predictions of possible jobs are always fraught with complications, guesstimates and fuzzy math, so they often should be taken with a grain of salt. No one really knows exactly how many jobs will be created. So maybe the president is right to be skeptical.

But the president shouldn’t pick and choose how he cites job-creation numbers. Perhaps he is tipping his hand on what he secretly thinks of the Keystone XL by citing a low-ball figure, generated by the pipeline’s opponents, but he should stick to using the official government estimate.  (His 2,000-job figure is actually slightly lower than the Cornell estimate.)

Otherwise, the president ironically seems to be signaling that even his own government does not produce the “most realistic” estimate that should be used by reporters.

UPDATE: The National Resources Defense Council, which opposes Keystone XL, has posted a blog post challenging this analysis and arguing that the president’s math is correct. We find it curious–and suspicious–that the White House has refused to explain the president’s reasoning, thus leaving it to outsiders to parse his words. In the meantime, PolitiFact also has examined the president’s statement and deemed it to be “false.”

As always, the burden for proof remains with the politician. If the White House decides to explain the president’s remarks, and his math adds up. we will revisit this ruling.

Despite that somewhat pessimistic interview, Politico responds with an article titled: “On Keystone pipeline, President Obama may be ‘headed towards yes.

Read the article if you’re inclined, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of evidence, just speculation from informed spectators. One interesting suggestion was that Obama might pressuring Canada behind the scenes to reduce the environmental impact of the Canadian oil sands production, which would help meet his ‘promise’ that he would only approve the pipeline if it didn’t — in his eye — pose an environmental threat.


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