The State Department's support of a controversial oil-pipeline project is putting pressure on the White House to move forward after three years, despite objections from environmentalists.
A series of public hearings concludes Friday on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada's oil sands in Alberta down through America's midsection to the Texas Gulf Coast.
So far, the State Department has published reports in favor of the project, which is projected to create 20,000 jobs and reduce the nation's dependence on overseas oil.
Still, it isn't an easy decision for the Obama administration because it doesn't want to disappoint its environmental supporters, who are opposed to the project. The president is expected to make a decision by the end of the year.
"This is a no-brainer," Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told a roomful of pipeline supporters this week, "which means in Washington it's 50-50."
Mr. Graham offered three reasons to approve the pipeline. First, it will create jobs, some 13,000 constructions jobs and 7,000 manufacturing jobs. Second, it will increase the nation's energy supply, and make the country less dependent on overseas oil. Third, Canada is more sensitive to the environmental impact than are Middle Eastern oil countries.
For a nation struggling to find jobs, the pipeline is too good of an opportunity to pass up, Mr. Graham said. That's perhaps the most likely reason why the Obama administration would shun environmentalists and approve the pipeline project.
"If they don't, this will be a defining issue in 2012," he said. "That would be a hard sell to the American people to justify saying, 'No.' Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton is a Democrat, and she sees the value of this."
Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, agreed there will be "political consequences" if the pipeline project is not approved soon.
"It will be a big mistake," he said. "This should not have taken much more than a year. There's no excuse for the delay."
Environmentalists plan to protest Friday before the hearing.
Opponents say the cost of the project is too high. It could endanger hundreds of miles of pristine American heartland from Montana to Oklahoma, as well as Nebraska's Ogallala Aquifer, the underground source of drinking water and irrigation water for much of the Midwest.
The Alberta oil, known as "tar sands oil," is the most harmful type of oil for the atmosphere, the Dirty Oil Sands network says on its website. Tar sands oil produces three to five times more greenhouse-gas pollution than traditional oil and is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse-gas pollution in Canada, the group says.
To keep the pipeline running, electrical-pump stations along the 1,700-mile stretch would have to step up production. That could lead to more expensive electricity costs for locals and more greenhouse gases polluting the air.
Environmentalists point out that 12 spills occurred during the first year along the constructed portion of the pipeline, Keystone 1.
"Most spills are small," said Rosemary Crawford, project director at the Center for Energy Matters. "However, this product is proving to be so toxic that even a small amount of it that spills is dangerous to the people in that area."
Nevertheless, Rep. Gene Green, Texas Democrat, would rather buy oil from "our best friend" to the north than from "countries who hate our guts."
"The environmental groups who have made this the end-all, be-all have made a terrible mistake," he told the same group of pipeline supporters this week.
Mr. Graham agreed.
"The environmental argument falls short of making common sense," he said.
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