Supporters of the giant Keystone XL pipeline, including a longtime top military adviser to President Obama, said Thursday that approval of the stalled Canada-to-Texas project would strengthen the U.S. position in the standoff with Russia over Ukraine and send a clear signal of American support to European allies.
Retired Gen. James Jones, who served as Mr. Obama’s national security adviser during the president’s first term, said Russian President Vladimir Putin will be emboldened if Mr. Obama refuses to approve the $7 billion project.
“[Putin] wields energy as a weapon,” Mr. Jones told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If we want to make Mr. Putin’s day and strengthen his hand, we should reject Keystone.”
Some in Congress, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, are also pushing for the U.S. to increase its natural gas exports to Europe in order to undercut any attempt by Mr. Putin to cut off energy supplies to Ukraine and other European customers. Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic also made such an appeal last week.
The national security pitch comes as Capitol Hill Republicans — and many Democrats — continue to urge Mr. Obama to swiftly approve the project, saying it would create thousands of jobs.
But the president is also facing pressure from environmental groups who, despite a recent State Department report saying the project won’t have a measurable impact on greenhouse gas emissions, say the risks of a spill while the oil is being transported outweigh any potential economic benefits.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat and newly-installed chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, echoed Mr. Jones’ sentiment on the importance of the project in a separate hearing on the State Department’s budget.
“It’s important not only to our economy, but I do think it has a real bearing on our position in the world as a superpower,” Ms. Landrieu said.
But Sen. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said the nature of the global energy market and the higher price that oil fetches in China compared to Europe would undercut any strategy to leverage U.S. energy resources to ease Ukraine’s dependence on Russia.
“15 bucks vs. 10 bucks — you don’t have to go to Harvard Business School,” he said.
The Senate Foreign Relations hearing was held in order to discuss whether there is a compelling national interest to build the project, which would carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil each day from Alberta through the U.S. heartland and ultimately to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Secretary of State John Kerry said he will continue to examine the project closely, but did not provide any indication Thursday that he was leaning one way or the other.
The State Department is scheduled to determine later this year whether the project is in the country’s national interest, but it remains uncertain after a Nebraska court decision last month invalidated Keystone’s route through the state. The ruling has been appealed by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and may delay the federal approval process even more.
Congressional Republicans have long lobbied for Mr. Obama to approve the project, recently marking the fifth anniversary of the application by TransCanada, the Canadian firm that wants to build the pipeline, to the State Department for permission to proceed. Keystone is also strongly backed by the Canadian government and by construction labor unions that have supported Mr. Obama in the past.
• David Sherfinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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