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Obama Links Pipeline Approval to Carbon Emissions

Supporters of the $7 billion project see a silver lining in the President's latest stance on the Pipeline.

Mon July 01, 2013 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

WASHINGTON (AP) - The proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada to Texas should only be approved if it does not worsen carbon pollution, President Barack Obama said Tuesday as part of a speech laying out sweeping plans to fight global warming.

The $7 billion pipeline from Canada’s tar sands has become a contentious issue, with Republicans touting the jobs it would create and environmentalists saying it would add to greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

"Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests," Obama said at Georgetown University. “Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The State Department must approve the long-delayed project because it crosses an international border.

A State Department report on the pipeline earlier this year acknowledged that development of tar sands in Alberta would create greenhouse gases, but it also made clear that other methods to transport the oil - including rail, trucks and barges - also pose a risk to the environment. For instance, a scenario that would move the oil on trains to mostly existing pipelines would release 8 percent more greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide than Keystone XL, the report said.

A top aide to House Speaker John Boehner, the most powerful Republican in Congress, said Obama’s comments indicated that the pipeline should be approved.

"The standard the president set today should lead to speedy approval of the Keystone pipeline," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

Still, environmentalists took heart in Obama’s remarks, noting it was the first time the administration had directly linked approval of the 1,700-mile (2,735-kilometer) pipeline to its effect on pollution. The White House has previously resisted such efforts by environmental groups.

"Today President Obama set a standard that the Keystone XL pipeline cannot harm the climate if it is to be approved. That will be difficult standard to meet," said Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.

Canada’s northern Alberta region has the world’s third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves. Canada needs infrastructure in place to export its growing production. The country relies on the U.S. for 97 percent of its energy exports.

Canada’s natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, said the proposed pipeline meets Obama’s emissions requirement. Oliver pointed to the State Department report, which he said concluded "that there would be no increase in greenhouse gas emissions."

TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that has proposed the pipeline, said in a statement it was pleased with Obama’s comments. "The almost five-year review of the project has already repeatedly found that these criteria are satisfied," said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive.

The pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels of oil a day across six states to refineries along the Gulf Coast. A southern leg from Oklahoma to ports near Houston already has been approved and construction is proceeding.

Supporters say the pipeline would create thousands of jobs, help lower fuel prices and bolster North American energy resources.

Opponents say the project would carry "dirty oil" that could trigger global warming. They also worry about a spill. Converting tar sands into oil uses as much as 15 percent more energy than conventional oil production.

A national poll by the Pew Research Center showed that 66 percent of those polled favor building the pipeline, compared with 23 percent who oppose it.

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