As expected, Republicans are seizing upon the Obama administration’s reported decision to delay the permitting process for the Keystone XL pipeline project, contending that President Obama is missing an opportunity to boost the economy.
The State Department is expected to announce that it cannot grant a permit to the project within the 60-day window mandated in legislation passed by Congress. It doesn’t mean, however, that the project won’t go forward at some point.
“President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline is as shocking as it is revealing,” Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, said in a statement. “By declaring that the Keystone pipeline is not in the ‘national interest,’ the president demonstrates a lack of seriousness about bringing down unemployment, restoring economic growth, and achieving energy independence. He seems to have confused the national interest with his own interest in pleasing the environmentalists in his political base.”
At a campaign event in Warrensville, S.C., Newt Gingrich called the decision a “stunningly stupid thing to do.”
The large crowd gathered to see Gingrich roared. “There’s no better word. These people are so out of touch with reality, it’s as if they were governing Mars.”
Gingrich said the decision will drive Canada into a partnership with China, and the oil would have reduced American dependency on foreign oil.
“If there was ever a time we needed an American energy policy to get free of the Middle East, it is right now,” he said. “My goal is to make America so energy independent that no American president ever again bows to a Saudi king.”
The petroleum industry asserts that the Keystone XL project would create at least 20,000 jobs, but the State Department and independent groups estimate that no more than 6,000 jobs would be generated.
Environmentalists have pushed the administration to turn down the permit, arguing that the transportation of petroleum from Canada’s oil sands would profoundly damage the environment. They also contend that much of the gasoline and other products refined from the Canadian oil would be exported, doing little for American energy security.
In addition, Nebraska has yet to identify possible alternate routes that would allow the pipeline to avoid a key aquifer.
At his daily briefing at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to discuss the state of the review but left little doubt about where the proposal stands.
“We don’t even have an alternate route identified, so how could we possibly review it?” Carney said. “These things are supposed to be decided in a methodical, responsible manner.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also criticized the administration’s decision.
“This political decision offers hard evidence that creating jobs is not a high priority for this administration,” said Thomas Donohue, the chamber’s chief executive officer. “The president’s decision sends a strong message to the business community and to investors: Keep your money on the sidelines, America is not open for business. By placing politics over policy, the Obama administration is sacrificing tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs in the short term, and many more than that in the long term.”
[For the record, 2:14 p.m. Jan. 18: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue as Donahue.]
Neela Banerjee of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.