WASHINGTON – President Obama on Friday downplayed the potential benefits of the Keystone pipeline, claiming it would not lower gas prices much for Americans -- but instead would boost Canadian oil companies.
Obama, who was speaking at a year-end news conference, said the controversial pipeline was not “a magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy” and added that it’s “hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.”
The president often downplays the economic benefits of the project, but appeared to be putting new emphasis Friday on claims that it would disproportionately help Canada. He said it would be “not even a nominal benefit for U.S. consumers.”
A spokesman for developer TransCanada fired back in a statement late Friday, noting the project would support thousands of U.S. jobs and describing it as mutually beneficial.
"The Keystone system is about helping our Canadian and American customers -- which includes leading U.S. oil producers and refiners -- get a safe, secure and reliable supply of crude oils they need to create products we all need -- gasoline, diesel, aviation fuels and many other products we use and consume here in North America," spokesman Shawn Howard said. "After being approved, Keystone XL will employ thousands of skilled American pipeline industry workers in the United States."
He also said there are no plans to export this oil overseas.
Obama spoke ahead of a new congressional session where majority Republicans are expected to push the pipeline as a first order of business.
Earlier this week, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Keystone pipeline would be the first bill taken up in the new GOP-controlled Senate, setting up a potentially contentious showdown with the Obama administration as well as environmental activists who have championed against the pipeline.
The $8 billion oil pipeline would run from Canada’s oil sands to the Texas Gulf Coast. It has become a symbol of divisions over the country’s energy and environmental policy.
Republicans and other supporters say the project would create jobs and reduce U.S. reliance on oil from the Middle East.
The 1,179-mile project is proposed to go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. TransCanada filed its first permit application with the State Department in September 2008.
The Republican-led House has repeatedly passed legislation approving the pipeline. But the bills have died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Last month, a bill fell one vote short of advancing in the Senate.
In a recent Fox News poll, nearly seven voters in 10 support building the Keystone XL Pipeline (68 percent). That included just over half of Democrats (53 percent), two-thirds of independents (69 percent) and almost all Republicans (85 percent).
Overall support for the pipeline has held steady over the last couple years: it was 70 percent in 2013 and 67 percent in 2012, according to the Fox News poll.
When asked by a reporter on Friday if Congress would force his hand on the issue, Obama replied, “I’ll see what they do. Take that up in the new year.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.