Proponents estimate the project will create 20,000 immediate jobs in construction and transportation, followed by more than 200,000 jobs when the pipeline is operational. Those figures helped sway the support of at least one labor union. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters endorsed the project this past month, saying it could create opportunities for thousands of construction workers.
"Infrastructure jobs typically put a lot of people to work very quickly. That's two results we'd all like to see: people at work and people at work tomorrow," James Kimball, the union's chief economist, told Roll Call.
In response, environmental activists have been lining up other unions in opposition. The Amalgamated Transit Union and Transport Workers Union issued a joint statement on Aug. 19, saying, "We need jobs, but not ones based on increasing our reliance on tar sands oil."
Opponents of the project say more jobs can be created through alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.
"We have to weigh those [pipeline] jobs against other jobs that are being held down in other energy sources," Jameson Henn of 350.org, the group leading the White House protests, said in an interview. "To really go full force on clean energy, it's going to take a president that's willing to stand up to Big Oil."
Henn said environmental activists will continue to pressure the president in the runup to the elections, especially in areas directly affected by the pipeline, which would run from North Dakota to Texas.
"We've had people arrested out there who were ranchers from Nebraska, farmers from Texas," Henn said. "I think this is now the premier environmental question facing President Obama going into 2012."
On Friday, Obama further disappointed environmentalists by quashing a new air quality standard for smog proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.