Sunday, July 28, 2013

Obama on Keystone

In an extended interview published in the New York Times today, Keystone was raised with Obama:
NYT: A couple other quick subjects that are economic-related. Keystone pipeline -- Republicans especially talk about that as a big job creator. You've said that you would approve it only if you could be assured it would not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon in the atmosphere. Is there anything that Canada could do or the oil companies could do to offset that as a way of helping you to reach that decision?
MR. OBAMA: Well, first of all, Michael, Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that that’s true. And my hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline -- which might take a year or two -- and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 [chuckles] jobs in a economy of 150 million working people.
NYT: Yet there are a number of unions who want you to approve this.
MR. OBAMA: Well, look, they might like to see 2,000 jobs initially. But that is a blip relative to the need.
So what we also know is, is that that oil is going to be piped down to the Gulf to be sold on the world oil markets, so it does not bring down gas prices here in the United States. In fact, it might actually cause some gas prices in the Midwest to go up where currently they can’t ship some of that oil to world markets.
Now, having said that, there is a potential benefit for us integrating further with a reliable ally to the north our energy supplies. But I meant what I said; I'm going to evaluate this based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere. And there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.
NYT: And if they did, could that offset the concerns about the pipeline itself?
MR. OBAMA: We haven't seen specific ideas or plans. But all of that will go into the mix in terms of John Kerry’s decision or recommendation on this issue.
Fascinating response from Obama there. First, he's not buying the inflated jobs numbers related to Keystone. Recall Harper's 2012 sit down session with an American think tank where he claimed that Keystone would be responsible for about 30,000 jobs. Obama is where the U.S. State Department has been, that the job benefits are on a much lower scale.

Also note those remarks that show he's sticking to the principle that carbon release is a key decision making component for him. That sets approval at a very high bar. He's putting the environmental consideration at the fore.

Then the bit about Canada doing more to mitigate carbon release. The Harper government will likely see this as an opening but it's also not very welcoming language to a government that has tried to delay and skate on carbon emissions. It sounds like a stick that Obama is going to deploy.

It is promising though for those who care about the environment and think that a stick is just what the Harper government needs.