GOP Lawmakers Scold Obama for ‘Punting’ on Keystone Pipeline, Killing 20,000 Potential Jobs

By Elizabeth Harrington | November 17, 2011 | 8:53 PM EST

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) (AP Photo)

( – Republican lawmakers criticized the Obama administration’s recent decision to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline in a press conference on Tuesday, urging the president to expedite the project that would create an estimated 20,000 jobs.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) led a group of House members voicing support for the $7-billion, 1,661-mile pipeline, which would run when it is completed from Alberta, Canada through the central United States and down to refineries along the Gulf Coast.

The lawmakers criticized what they called a political move to push the decision on approving the project past the 2012 presidential election, and warned that if the Obama administration does not act quickly, Canada could take its business to China.

The White House, which expressed support for the pipeline for the last two years, announced last week that it now wants to look at alternative routes for the pipeline, apparently for environmental reasons. Lobbyists for liberal environmental groups have pushed hard to stop the project.

After the White House announcement, actor and activist Robert Redford appeared in a video for the Natural Resources Defense Council, praising President Obama’s decision. “Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up to Big Oil,” said redford. “Thank you for standing up for us all.”

Rep. Renee Elmers (R-N.C.) (AP Photo)

At Tuesday’s press conference, Rep. Griffin said: “First of all, I think most of us want to say to the president: Mr. President, we can’t wait. We all agree that the greatest challenge facing this country right now is jobs, and by delaying a decision on the Keystone pipeline, the president is putting politics -- presidential politics, his campaign -- over paychecks.”

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.).  “I am furious that the president has traded politics for prosperity.”

“Instead of making the right choice, the president punted,” said Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas). “Well, Mr. President, the Chicago Bears need a punter.  The American people need a leader.”

The Keystone XL could transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day and is estimated to cost $7 billion, in private funding, according to the State Department.

“To all of the American steelworkers, the welders, the fitters, the mechanics, the heavy equipment operators … the one thing we all know, that the president just doesn’t know, is that you are not lazy, okay?” said Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.), taking a swipe at the president’s recent comments that “we've been a little bit lazy” in attracting foreign business to America.

“You are out there looking for a job,” said Landry.

The decision comes after TransCanada issued a 10,000-page Final Environmental Impact Statement, what the energy infrastructure company called “the most exhaustive and detailed review ever conducted of a crude oil pipeline in the United States.”

The proposed pipeline would run from Hardisty, Alberta through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma ending at Port Arthur, Texas.

U.S. President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Its construction would employ 20,000 Americans and 118,000 spin-off jobs would be created along the pipeline route through increased business, adding $5 billion in property taxes, according to TransCanada.

The pipeline has pitted two factions of the president’s political base at odds: unions that favor the Keystone XL for its job potential and environmentalists that maintain it will be harmful.

“This is the presidential equivalent of voting present,” said Griffin.

“The one thing that my constituents do believe this is -- about this Presidency -- is that he values his radical environmental campaign donors over the millions of Americans that are out of work,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).

David Delie of Welspun, a company in Little Rock, Arkansas, whose 600 employees have spent 18 months building the pipe for the project, joined the lawmakers to express his concerns.  Welspun has 500 miles of pipe ready to start production.

Actor/activist Robert Redford. (AP Photo)

“This process in the permitting has been compromised by politics,” Delie said.  “It’s normally a two-year process. The project should have been approved last year. It’s already been delayed once and there’s no guarantees at the end of the second delay that the pipeline will be approved.”

In a State Department briefing announcing the delay, Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones denied the decision was political.

“The White House did not have anything to do with this decision, except we consulted with them once we were moving toward it,” said Jones on Nov. 10.

“This decision is based on the process that we have been going through,” she said.  “This is not a political decision. We have been – in this national interest determination – out there listening to what the public has to say.”

When asked about these comments, Rep. Griffin said, “I don’t think that’s a credible answer.”

“If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it’s a duck.  This is a duck,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.).

TransCanada applied for a presidential permit on Sept. 19, 2008.  The application then went to the State Department for review.

TransCanada has since endured comment periods, Environment Impact Statements and drafts, scoping meetings, public comment meetings, government-to-government meetings for Indian tribes and a 90-day review period for the National Interest Determination this fall.  A decision was set for December.

“It took Canada one year to approve the entire project,” said Griffin.  “It’s taken this country years.  We can’t be competitive with that sort of delay.”

Jones attributed the latest delay to inadequately looking into the pipeline’s impact on the Nebraska Sandhills.

(AP Photo)

TransCanada, however, studied 14 routes, eight of which impacted Nebraska.  “They included one potential alternative route in Nebraska that would have avoided the entire Sandhills region,” the company wrote in a Nov. 10 press release.

Despite the delay, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, Russ Girling, said, “We remain confident Keystone XL will ultimately be approved.”

“This project is too important to the U.S. economy, the Canadian economy and the national interest of the United States for it not to proceed,” he said.

The lawmakers, however, warned Canada could take its business elsewhere.

“Canadian oil will come out of the ground,” said Royce.  “Where is it going to go?  It’s going to fuel Beijing’s rise.”

Griffin pointed to an AFP report, saying, “The Canadian Prime Minister is looking to China to do what Americans want to do take the natural resource from Canada and refine it,” he said.

“China is building its energy network worldwide, while we’re playing politics,” Royce said.

“If Keystone XL dies, Americans will still wake up the next morning and continue to import 10 million barrels of oil from repressive nations, without the benefit of thousands of jobs and long term energy security,” said Girling.  “That would be a tragedy.”