Obama Administration Is Pressured by GOP, Unions to Expedite Controversial Pipeline Project

When the Obama administration postponed a decision on a massive oil pipeline project, it pleased environmentalists but angering labor unions, whose representatives told a congressional committee Friday that the Keystone XL project isn't just a pipeline -- its a lifeline for workers.

"We believe that the benefits of this pipeline are too many to be allow it to be derailed by environmental extremists. The Keystone XL will create good-paying jobs here in the U.S. and Canada," says Brent Booker of the Laborers International Union.

And Bruce Burton of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers adds, "The Keystone XL pipeline is shovel-ready. As soon as a presidential permit is granted, jobs will be created -- jobs that our members desperately need."

The unions argue the pipeline would create 20,000 direct jobs and 115,000 indirect jobs from suppliers and the like.

Republicans argue the administration ducked a final decision because it wanted to avoid angering part of the president's political base.

"Which sector is the president going to mess over by making a decision?" asks John Shimkus, R-Ill. "Is he going to blow off his supporters in organized labor or is he going to blow off his friends in the environmental left after the election? Does anyone have any idea? He's got to do one, right?"

And Fred Upton, R-Mich., notes, "The president has been using the slogan 'we can't wait' as he travels around the country, but wait is exactly what he told the workers who want to build and support the pipeline."

The State Department postponed a final decision after environmentalists objected to the pipeline running through an ecologically sensitive area of Nebraska. The company behind the project has now agreed to find a new route.

House Republicans will push legislation taking the final decision away from the president and the State Department, once Nebraska decides a route of its choosing. The House GOP would give the decision instead to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates pipelines, in the hope of taking the politics out of it.

For their part, Democrats had broader objections to the project, making clear they oppose the pipeline in part because they don't like the country's dependence on oil.

"We should be reducing our oil dependence and using cleaner fuels," says Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "But Keystone is a big step in the opposite direction."

And an environmentalist from Nebraska argued that oil from Canadian tar sands creates cancer and told lawmakers she wants her kids to know that she fought for green and renewable energy instead.

"We want energy that is revitalizing our country, not putting them at risk," says Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska.

Some Democrats, though, criticized the delay. Rep. Elliot Engel, D-N.Y., noted he voted against the Alaska pipeline for environmental reasons. "But we can't just keep saying no to everything and then complain that gasoline is $4 a gallon and that we're beholden to Hugo Chavez and the Saudi Royal family," he says. "I think we have to have a little bit of a balance. I was disappointed in the administration's pushing back of this deadline because I think it's time to make a move one way or the other."

We all know what the issues are and we can make a decision, he continued, saying "delaying it doesn't benefit anybody."