- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

President Obama didn’t even mention the Keystone XL oil pipeline by name in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but leading environmentalists are reading between the lines and believe they heard clear indications the White House is prepared to kill the project.

Mr. Obama seemingly dismissed the pipeline during his highly anticipated speech, though he did not explicitly say which way he is leaning or if he’s any closer to a decision.

“Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,” the president said. “Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come. Let’s do it. Let’s get it done.”

With that one remark and without even uttering the word “Keystone,” Mr. Obama may have tipped his hand, at least in the minds of environmental groups.

“Tonight’s speech puts wind in the sails of Keystone XL opponents. President Obama laid out a clear case for climate action, and hit back hard against those who are sticking their heads in the sand,” said May Boeve, executive director of the climate and environmental group 350.org. “He said we need to think beyond a single pipeline, and made a strong case for developing sustainable, clean energy sources like wind and solar. The president is clearly beginning to think about his climate legacy, and he understands that it depends on rejecting Keystone XL.”

Other Keystone opponents cast the project in a broader light and said Mr. Obama, if he wants to be remembered for taking real, lasting action on climate change, must reject the pipeline.

“When it comes to the climate crisis, the President knows the stakes; and tonight, he underscored the urgency of the problem with his commitment to climate action for our children’s future,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “To meet the greatest challenge of our generation, we can and we must end our dependence not just on foreign oil, but all fossil fuels. We can indeed set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”

Meanwhile, Republicans and some Democrats still are pushing the project. Legislation approving Keystone soon could end up on Mr. Obama’s desk, though he has vowed to veto it and argues the State Department must be able to continue its review of the pipeline without political interference from Congress.

In the GOP response to Mr. Obama’s address, Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, cast the bill as a job creator and argued it is long past time for the administration to make a decision.

“Now, we’re working hard to pass the kind of serious job-creation ideas you deserve. One you’ve probably heard about is the Keystone jobs bill. President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it,” she said. “The president’s own State Department has said Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact.”

Indeed, State Department reviews have found that the project will not significantly increase domestic greenhouse-gas emissions and will create more than 40,000 jobs, though project opponents dispute both of those findings.

The department has yet to issue its final report on whether Keystone is in the U.S. “national interest.” After that determination is issued, the president would make a decision.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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