Keystone XL pressure mounts before State of the Union

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama isn’t likely to utter a word about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline during his State of the Union address Tuesday night — but that isn’t stopping fans and foes of the project from pressing the issue as the White House puts the final touches on the speech.

Critics of the proposed TransCanada Corp. pipeline are mounting protests on the Capitol grounds and taking their message to the airwaves before the address. Meanwhile, Keystone XL’s supporters are using letters and speeches to press Obama to make a final decision on the pipeline that would ferry Canadian oil (and some domestic supplies) to Cushing, Okla., and on to the Gulf Coast.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund investor from California, is paying MSNBC to run a minute-long ad that highlights the Chinese interest in Alberta’s oil sands projects and the potential for crude carried through the pipeline to ultimately be sent overseas. The ad calls Keystone XL a “sucker punch to America’s heartland,” and says “oil lobbyists and politicians” touting benefits from the pipeline “take America for suckers.”

Hours before the speech, opponents of the project plan to parade a giant, 100-yard inflatable pipeline emblazoned with the words “Climate Champion or Pipeline President” around the Capitol building.

Bill McKibben, president of, one of the groups behind the rally, said the mock pipeline is meant to be “a reminder that there’s one environmental issue that’s brought people into the streets again and again across the country, and that’s the KXL pipeline.” Obama has the power to “stop it once and for all,” McKibben stressed.

In Republicans’ weekly radio address, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said Obama can help spur the economy by signing off on the pipeline and supporting “increased domestic energy production.”

“The president’s own State Department acknowledged that the Keystone XL pipeline, as just one example, would create tens of thousands of jobs at no cost to taxpayers” Blunt said.

“This project has been stalled for more than five years,” Blunt added. “It’s time for Pres. Obama to approve truly shovel-ready projects like Keystone to encourage private-sector job creation.”

Related story: Southern leg of Keystone XL begins delivering oil

In a letter to Obama last week, all Republican 45 senators insisted the president should not wait any longer to make a final decision on whether to permit the border-crossing pipeline, which is still under an environmental review at the State Department.

“The State Department has had more than enough time to issue a final [environmental impact statement] and make a decision,” the senators said. “We therefore request that you issue the final EIS and presidential permit approving the pipeline as soon as possible and tell us when we can expect your decision.”

Republican aides on the House Energy and Commerce Committee noted the administration’s stated plans to use the speech to lay out concrete proposals for growing the economy in what the White House has dubbed a “year of action.”

“American workers have been clamoring for this pipeline for years,” the GOP staff said. “It’s time for the president to say ‘yes’ to jobs, put his pen to work and approve Keystone XL.”

There’s been no clear signal when the State Department will issue the final environmental impact statement. Even when the analysis is issued, a decision may still be a long way off. The State Department would then have to decide whether Keystone XL is in the national interest, the public would have a chance to comment on the question and other agencies would get to weigh in.

Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that he hoped the final analysis would be ready soon, but added that the administration won’t be rushed into a decision.

Energy and Environment in Obama’s State of the Union Addresses

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