Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) called Obama’s decision “stupid,” saying it will cost thousands of construction jobs, jeopardize energy security and undermine the country’s international alliances.
“This is really bad for the country,” Gingrich said, adding that the decision was made “to appease a group of left-wing extremists sitting in San Francisco.”
The pipeline, which requires a federal permit from the State Department because it crosses an international border, had been under review for more than three years. The department is required to determine whether the project is in the national interest.
In November, the administration delayed making that determination, on the grounds that the project needed to avoid crossing sensitive terrain in Nebraska’s Sandhills region.
At the time, officials predicted that rerouting the pipeline and the subsequent environmental review would extend the permitting process into early 2013.
Some political observers said the effort by Congress to pressure the president into making a quick decision might have backfired. Last week, John Engler, a former Michigan governor who now heads the Business Roundtable, said that “no chief executive likes to be painted into a corner by anybody, whether another nation or a legislative body.” Engler and the Business Roundtable support the pipeline project.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a phone interview that the White House is sending a strong message to voters in rejecting the pipeline, demonstrating Obama’s “enduring commitment to breaking our dependence on oil.”
Republicans and their allies are just as eager to make the pipeline a decisive issue in the presidential election. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue issued a statement Wednesday saying, “This political decision offers hard evidence that creating jobs is not a high priority for this administration.”
The jobs issue has been a major point of contention. Ads taken out by pipeline supporters routinely say the project would create 20,000 jobs. But TransCanada’s Girling has said that Keystone XL would create 20,000 “job-years” — including 13,000 for direct construction and 7,000 for supply manufacturers. Construction would last two years, and the number of construction workers employed each year would total 6,500, Girling has said.
Moreover, TransCanada has already spent $1.9 billion buying pipeline parts, reducing the number of supply-chain jobs that could be created in the future.
Nonetheless, James T. Callahan, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, called Obama’s decision “a blow to America’s construction workers” in “the sector hardest hit by the recession.”
Obama tried to defuse one criticism on Wednesday by saying his administration will explore ways to relieve the pipeline bottleneck that is slowing oil shipments between a major terminal in Cushing, Okla., and the nation’s Gulf Coast refineries.Oil produced in Montana and North Dakota is being taken by truck and train to refineries.
The American Petroleum Institute has been waging a no-holds-barred television ad campaign hammering Obama on the pipeline permit. During the week of Jan. 9, the API spent $605,510 on ads in six states and the District, according to CMAG/Kantar Media. The largest amounts were spent in crucial electoral battlegrounds in the Midwest, including Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
API President Jack Gerard said Wednesday that Obama’s decision was “a clear abdication of presidential leadership.”
But Stephen Brown, vice president of federal government affairs for the oil refiner Tesoro, said he was not surprised. “Today’s decision will be a fairly easy one for the White House to make,” he wrote in an e-mail. “No one who was planning on voting against the president would have been won over simply because of the approval of Keystone.”Engler said, “I just think the timing was such that the politics got in the way of the decision and that it will be approved pretty quickly once the elections are out of the way.”
Staff writers David Nakamura, Karen Tumulty, David A. Fahrenthold and T.W. Farnam contributed to this report.