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Kerri-Ann Jones, State Department: Permit Denied for Keystone XL Oil Pipeline from Canada

Scott Stearns

January 19, 2012

The Obama administration on Wednesday denied a permit for a new oil pipeline from Canada because it says congressional Republicans did not give the administration enough time to determine the project's impact on public safety and the environment. The president's political opponents say the move shows he is not serious about creating jobs.

The State Department recommended that President Obama reject the application for a new crude oil pipeline from Canada's tar sands region to Texas refineries because of concerns about the proposed route through areas of the state of Nebraska that State Department officials say they did not have sufficient time to consider.

In a written statement from the White House, President Obama said the decision is not a judgment on the merits of the proposed pipeline. It is on what the president called the “arbitrary nature” of a 60-day deadline imposed by congressional Republicans. Mr. Obama says that deadline prevents a full assessment of the environmental, health and safety impact of the more-than-2,700-kilometer project.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney said the congressional deadline left the Obama administration no choice but to deny the pipeline application. "Sixty days is simply not enough time," he said. "We don't even have an alternate route identified yet, so how could anyone possibly review it thoroughly, in the manner that is expected in this process?"

House of Representatives Speaker, Republican John Boehner said the president was authorized to block the project only if he believed it was not in the country's national interest. Speaking on Capitol Hill, Boehner asked, “Is it not in the national interest to create tens of thousands of jobs here in America with private investment?”

"Is it not in the national interest to get energy resources from an ally like Canada as opposed to some countries in the Middle East? The president had said he will do anything that he can to create jobs. Today that promise was broken," he said.

Boehner said the decision shows the president is more concerned about politics than about creating jobs because approving the plan might have alienated Mr. Obama's supporters in U.S. environmental groups. "The president won't stand up to his political base, even in the name of creating American jobs. And now, Canada is going to have to look to other nations, like China, to sell its oil reserves to. Listen, the president's policies are making the American economy worse, rather than better," he said.

Boehner said Republicans in Congress will continue to push for the pipeline because it is good for the economy and it is good for Americans, especially those who are looking for work. It is also good for the president's political opponents in an election year, when the economy is the to priority for most voters.

The leading Republican presidential contender, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, issued a written statement saying that the president's decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline is “as shocking as it is revealing.” Romney said Mr. Obama has “once again put politics ahead of sound policy” and is demonstrating what the presidential hopeful called “a lack of seriousness about bringing down unemployment, restoring economic growth, and achieving energy independence.”

The State Department says its denial of the permit application does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects.

Kerri-Ann Jones is an Assistant Secretary in the State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. In a telephone conference call with reporters, Jones said the decision was based not on politics, but on concerns expressed last November that officials needed more time to gather more information about the project. "This is a process decision that we made based on the decision that we made on November 10 and the information that we felt we needed to really inform our decision to make sure we really had everything we needed to do the best in terms of looking at this pipeline and determining whether or not it was in the national interest," she said.

Asked what part energy independence plays in determining the national interest of pipeline projects, Jones said the Obama administration is working to reduce reliance on foreign oil. "This decision today doesn't make our commitment to energy independence and energy security any less of a priority. It is a major priority for our country. We are making this decision because [in] the process, we did not have the information we need to make the decision that we thought would be well informed," she said.

Pipeline applicant TransCanada is considering another proposal that would reroute the pipeline around aquifers in Nebraska's Sandhills region. Jones said she could not give a timeline for how long a review of a new application might take.

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