The deadline for President Obama to make his decision to approve the Keystone pipeline is February 21. The business community and labor groups are holding their collective breath to see if the president will approve the TransCanada Corporation project. At a time where energy prices are soaring, job creation is slow, many in the business community and on Capitol Hill are scratching their heads as to why the President hasn’t given the project his approval. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee expresses his frustration and concern over this delay.
LL: The clock is ticking down for the President in making his decision on the Keystone Project. Why the hold up?
Chairman Upton: The president doesn’t want to have to make a decision during an election year and risk losing support from either the environmentalists or labor groups. Unfortunately, as you said, this is an issue of jobs and energy security – to quote the president, I'd say 'we can't wait.'
LL: The administration says it would rather say no than a rushed decision. What do you think about that statement?
Chairman Upton: Keystone is the most studied pipeline in industrial history. It has been subject to over three years of study and review by the U.S. State Department and 11 other federal agencies. I wouldn’t consider three years of study a rushed process. In fact, the pipeline is already a year behind schedule for the normal NEPA review process.
LL: This project has become a politically charged topic with environmental groups. What is your message to them?
Chairman Upton: Opponents of the pipeline seem to think if we don’t build it, the Canadian oil sands will not be developed. The reality is that Canada will develop and sell this oil regardless of whether we build the pipeline. The Department of Energy and the president’s advisors have said so. If we don’t allow the oil to flow to U.S. refineries, the Canadians will simply turn around and sell the oil to China. A pipeline is the most efficient and environmentally sound way to transport this oil. Without the pipeline, this oil will be transported by rail and truck, which is far more dangerous.
LL: This is what the President calls, a “shovel ready project”. Labor groups like the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, and the Teamsters are in favor of this project. What kind of frustrations are you hearing from big labor?
Chairman Upton: It’s simple: they want jobs. We have had several labor union witnesses testify at our hearings who say they are frustrated with the president for delaying the pipeline. They have been waiting over three years for these jobs, and the president’s approval is now the only thing standing in the way. American workers want jobs and they want them now.
LL: Opponents say the 20,000 jobs creation figure over two years is inflated referring to a State Department report last Summer saying job creation would be 6,000. What do you say to that?
Chairman Upton: Industry and labor groups have all agreed with the estimates that put job creation somewhere near the 20,000 figure— and these are just the immediate job benefits. The pipeline could create and support over 100,000 jobs over the life of the project. Whether it’s 6,000, 20,000, or 100,000 jobs—these are jobs America needs.
LL: Are you worried the President will say no given his record against “big oil”?
Chairman Upton: I can’t imagine why the president would want to stand in the way of thousands of shovel-ready jobs and a more secure energy future. It is clear this pipeline is in the nation’s best interest. I am hopeful he will do what is right for the country.
LL: If this pipeline is not made what are the unintended consequences of that decision?
Chairman Upton: The pipeline would bring nearly a million additional barrels of safe and secure oil per day to U.S. refineries. If we lose access to this resource, it means China receives oil from our ally while we continue to rely on imports from other less-friendly nations. Just look at what’s happening today in Iran, with threatened supply disruptions. The more we rely on oil imports from these unstable regions, the more vulnerable we remain.
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A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."