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Nov 022011

From Green Right Now Reports

President Obama told a Nebraska TV station yesterday that he — not the State Department — will be making the final decision on whether to permit the controversial 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline.

The president said he would consider both the health of Americans and the economy in making the decision as he is presented with information about the pipeline — words that some environmentalists opposing the pipeline took as cautiously encouraging.

“…it’s very good to see the President taking full ownership of this decision and indicating that the environment will be the top priority going forward,” said Bill McKibben, a leader of the movement to stop the pipeline.

The pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Texas refineries, needs a permit from either the State Department or the White House, before construction could begin.

The plan to carry tar sands oil across the heartland has been hard-fought by environmentalists, who say it will facilitate the sale of a dirty type of oil that produces three times the greenhouse gases of regular crude extraction. Many also believe it threatens the vast Ogallala Aquifer, as well as other water sources and land along the proposed route. They point to a companion pipeline by the same operator, which has leaked a dozen times since completion in 2010.

Pipeline protesters, who staged a sit-in at the White House late this summer are planning a second appearance this Sunday, when they will join hands around the presidential residence.

First, though, the state of Nebraska may make a call that could affect Keystone XL. The state convened a special session of the legislature to consider whether the pipeline should be routed around the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska’s Sandhills region, where the underground water stores are very close to the surface. The current routing by pipeline operator TransCanada, which was approved by federal officials, would traverse the Sandhills.

The Ogallala provides water to 80 percent of Nebraska residents, and millions more in other plains states.

Obama told KETV in Omaha that he would take into account “the health of the American people” in making the decision, while also looking at the pipeline’s impact on the economy. The pipeline operator, TransCanada, has promised as many as 20,000 construction jobs would be created, though critics of the project say the company has inflated the numbers. A Cornell University report suggested that the pipeline would produce jobs fewer than 5,000 direct construction jobs.

Here’s what Obama said in the interview with the Omaha station:

“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 examples aquifers, they’re adversely affected, folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted, and so we want to make sure we’re taking the long view on these issues.

“We need to encourage domestic oil and natural gas 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 the pipeline’s job generating potential, the president said:

“It does (produce jobs), but 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 rich land that’s so important to agriculture in Nebraska are 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.”

Environmentalists have opposed the Keystone pipeline on several counts, noting that it destroys virgin forests in Canada as the tar sands is strip-mined in vast pits beneath the surface. The extraction of oil from the tar sands requires large amounts of water, and the produced oil is thicker and more corrosive than standard crude, requiring more refining. All this adds up to an energy source that requires extensive inputs, making it less efficient, and releasing or producing carbon emissions at several junctures in the process.

Climate champion Dr. James Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has said the pipeline enabling the Canadian tar sands to be sold on the global oil market will produce so much carbon pollution, it will be “game over” for the planet.