President Barack Obama sought to defuse Republican attacks over his blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline amid soaring gas prices today, but his latest attempt at a compromise came under fire from friends and foes alike.
At a Cushing, Okla., event, Obama made his strongest statements yet in support of more oil drilling and more pipelines as part of his energy strategy.
“Today, I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done,” Obama said, referring to the southern end of the Keystone pipeline, against a backdrop of pipeline sections ready to be installed. The full pipeline would run from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
“The northern portion of it we’re going to have to review properly to make sure that the health and safety of the American people are protected,” he said. “That’s common sense.”
Obama’s decision to come to Cushing, a key interchange for oil and gas pipelines, was derided by Republicans, who accused the president of pretending to support oil and gas while continuing to throw roadblocks in the way.
“The only recent action the president has taken on energy involved lobbying Senators, personally and successfully, to prevent construction of the Keystone pipeline,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. “Yet today he’s out in Oklahoma trying to take credit for a part of the pipeline that doesn’t even require his approval.”
Other Republicans joked that the president had a “half-pipe” policy and said Obama has failed to fully develop oil reserves, including massive shale oil deposits.
And they reiterated calls for the president to approve the full pipeline, although a route has not yet been chosen through Nebraska after the initial route faced opposition in that state over concerns it could affect water supplies and the environment if there was a spill. Congress passed a measure in December forcing the White House to make a decision on TransCanada’s permit request for the cross-border pipeline, and Obama rejected it in January on the grounds that his administration did not have enough time to review the effect.
“During his trip today, he pretended to support the virtues of oil and gas, but we all know what he is really doing,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who accused the president of being the most anti-fossil fuel president in history. “The only job this trip was meant to save is his own.”
Rep. Dennis Cardoza said the president’s move wouldn’t satisfy anybody and would merely keep the issue alive.
“I think it’s the most idiotic political move I’ve ever seen,” said Cardoza, who supports the pipeline. The California Democrat said the president needs to make a decision one way or another and stick to it.
If he’s going to build it, “do it, take your lumps, be done with it,” he added.
Cardoza said the latest maneuver amounts to “highlighting a waffle.”
“They don’t build statues to wafflers,” he said.
Sen. Mark Begich praised Obama, however, for embracing at least the southern half of the pipeline.
“The more the merrier,” the Alaska Democrat said.
Environmental groups that had cheered Obama’s decision to block the pipeline in January reacted with alarm.
National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Larry Schweiger said the president had taken a “dangerous wrong turn on energy.”
“Rushing pipelines and drill rigs for rich oil executives will only delay the investments we need in renewable energy and create long-lasting damage to our waters and lands,” he said in a statement.
The National Resources Defense Council warned the Cushing-to-Texas pipeline would accelerate global warming.
“It is downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline — that will carry costly and dirty tar sands from Canada,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the NRDC’s international program director.