Top GOP lawmaker ups call for Keystone XL’s approval after upbeat jobs report

A top Republican lawmaker upped his calls for President Obama’s administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline following the release of stronger jobs numbers today.

The Labor Department reported today that the U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in December while the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent.

But Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said job creation still isn’t occurring fast enough to help millions of Americans who are still out of work. He said TransCanada Corp.’s proposed oil sands pipeline from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas would have “tremendous jobs and energy security benefits.”

“Today’s unemployment figures are a reminder that we still need every job we can get, and it’s time for President Obama to say yes to thousands of Keystone XL jobs,” he said in an emailed statement.

Republicans have made the job creation argument a centerpiece of their ongoing pressure to push the Obama administration to approve the 1,700 mile pipeline. They and industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute have contended the pipeline could create up to 20,000 jobs.

The GOP won a 60-day deadline for a decision on the pipeline in the law extending the payroll tax cut by two months. The State Department warns the deadline doesn’t give it enough time to study alternative routes taking the pipeline away from a major aquifer in Nebraska.

Environmental groups have called the GOP’s jobs estimates inflated. They point to figures from the State Department and a Cornell University in claiming the project would at best create only about 6,000 temporary jobs.

And those jobs aren’t justified by the water pollution risks the pipeline poses, environmentalists say, or by the extra greenhouse gases pumped into the air because tar sands crude requires far more energy than conventional oil to extract.

Policies that reduce transportation fuel use hold better job-creation and energy-security potential than Keystone XL would, said Anthony Swift, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one environmental group that opposes the project.

He pointed to recently finalized tougher fuel-efficiency and greenhouse-gas standards for passenger vehicles (cars and pickup trucks) and separate standards for trucks and buses. The Environmental Protection Agency says the passenger-vehicle standards will roughly double fuel economy for cars by 2025 while saving consumers more at the pump than they’ll pay in higher vehicle costs.

“Those do far more than Keystone XL ever could for U.S. energy supply and energy security,” Swift said. “They do it in a way that put more Americans to work and save consumers money at the station.”