WASHINGTON — President Obama said Tuesday that he will decide whether to approve or deny a permit for a controversial 1,700-mile oil pipeline, rather than delegating the decision to the State Department.
The proposal by the Canadian firm TransCanada to ship crude extracted from a region in Alberta called the "oil sands" to Gulf Coast refineries has become a charged political issue for the White House. Labor unions and business groups argue that it would create thousands of jobs. Environmentalists, who plan to ring the White House in a protest on Sunday, say that oil extraction would accelerate global warming and that the pipeline could spill, polluting water and causing potentially severe environmental harm.
In an interview with the Omaha television station KETV, the president said he would weigh the Keystone XL pipeline's potential economic benefits against its possible environmental consequences. The Nebraska legislature convened Tuesday in a special session to consider whether it should adopt any measures that would block the pipeline.
Referring to the State Department, Obama told KETV, "They'll be giving me a report over the next several months and, you know, my general attitude is: What is best for the American people? What's best for our economy both short term and long term? But also: What's best for the health of the American people?"
"We don't want, for example, aquifers" to be adversely affected, he said, adding, "folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted, and so we want to make sure we're taking the long view on these issues."
"We need to encourage domestic oil and natural gas production," Obama continued.". . . But there's a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected."