Republicans criticize Obama for Keystone jobs claim in interview

By Jim Snyder
Bloomberg News

Congressional Republicans criticized comments by President Barack Obama about the number of jobs the Keystone XL pipeline would create, saying the remarks undercut his own efforts to highlight policies to boost the U.S. economy.

Representative Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, said Obama, in a New York Times interview published July 28, ignored estimates from the U.S. State Department about the direct and indirect jobs the $5.3 billion project proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. would create.

“The president now has zero credibility when he speaks about infrastructure projects creating jobs,” Terry, whose home state would be crossed by Keystone, said in a statement.

In the interview with the Times, Obama said there was no evidence to back up claims that Keystone would be a “big jobs generator.”

He said “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 jobs in a economy of 150 million working people.”

The Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee posted a blog on its website saying, “President Obama has resorted to a curious tactic in the administration’s latest pivot back to jobs and the economy — disparage and dismiss jobs.”

The criticism turned a discussion about Keystone from its impact on climate change to a debate over its economic merits as Obama makes a renewed push for policies he says will speed the U.S. recovery, including more infrastructure spending.

Economy Focus

The president last week gave the first of several planned speeches designed to revive a stalled economic agenda.

Republicans say Keystone would create thousands of jobs and help improve U.S. energy security.

Obama’s comments to the Times marked the second time in two months that he has commented publicly about the project, which the State Department is reviewing because it crosses an international border.

At an address on climate change last month, he said Keystone shouldn’t be approved if it would significantly exacerbate carbon dioxide emissions as environmental groups like 350.org contend it would.

White House

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said today that Obama was “draining the politics out of this debate and evaluating this project on the merits, and that’s exactly the process that’s under way at the State Department right now.”

The State Department said in its draft analysis that Keystone would potentially support 42,100 jobs in the U.S. over the one to two years it would take to build. That figure includes 3,900 people directly employed in construction.

After completion, the project would support about 35 permanent jobs, according to the State Department.

Obama also suggested in his interview with the Times that Canada may have to reduce greenhouse gases from the production of the oil sands to win approval.

“I’m going to evaluate this based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere,” Obama said. “And there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.”

Environmentalist Optimism

Critics of the project say they were increasingly optimistic that Obama would reject the project.

“After several years, he’s starting to hear what the environmental community has been saying,” Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for 350.org, said in an interview.

In particular, Obama highlighted that the oil produced would be exported, and could raise gasoline prices in some places in the U.S., a point critics have been making. “It’s clear that the White House is ready to take on the Republicans over climate change, and these disastrous infrastructure projects,” he said.

Business groups said Obama was underestimating the jobs Keystone would create. “Manufacturers are extremely disappointed by the president’s dismissal of the jobs-creating potential of the construction of this important project,” Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, wrote in a blog posting.

“It is not logical to think a $7.6 billion infrastructure project stretching across the entire breadth of the continental U.S. wouldn’t employ thousands of workers both in the manufacturing sector and in constructing the pipeline,” James Millar, a spokesman for TransCanada, in an e-mail.

He was including a southern leg of the pipeline to refineries in the Gulf Coast that is already under construction with the project the State Department is now reviewing.

“In this economy, any source of private job creation should be welcomed with open arms,” Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, said in a statement. Upton is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has approved legislation that would allow Keystone to go forward without Obama’s approval.

—With assistance from Mark Drajem in Washington and Rebecca Penty in Calgary. Editors: Jon Morgan, Mark McQuillan.

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