Obama and Prime Minister of Canada Do Not Give Any Ground on Pipeline Dispute

Harper & ObamaIn diplomatically polite terms, President Barack Obama and Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper remained at odds Wednesday over a proposed
oil pipeline from Canada through the United States, with Obama showing
no interest in speeding up a project that the Canadian leader sees as
vital to his nation’s economy.

Under Obama’s watch, the State
Department has delayed potential approval of the Keystone XL pipeline
until 2013, which falls after the presidential election. Obama,
pressured by both Canada and Republican lawmakers at home to accelerate
the jobs-creating project, stood by the decision for a deeper
environmental review before any decisions are made.

“With
respect to the politics, look, this is a big project with big
consequences,” Obama said in a joint appearance with Harper at the White
House. “We’ve seen Democrats and Republicans express concerns about it.
And it is my job as president of the United States to make sure that a
process is followed that examines all the options.”

He
said he discussed the matter with Harper and “the prime minister and
our Canadian friends understand” that it is important for U.S. officials
to examine the project rigorously.

The
1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline would carry an estimated 700,000
barrels of oil a day from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in
Texas, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and
Oklahoma.

Harper had called
approval of the project a “no-brainer.” And he has suggested that
politics played a factor in the Obama administration’s delay. The State
Department in November ordered that the pipeline be rerouted and subject
to further environmental review, drawing cheers from environmental
groups and howls from Republicans about lost job creation.

Standing with Obama, Harper was measured, but made clear their talks had not changed matters much.

“My
position, the position of the government of Canada on this issue, is
very well known,” he said in the brief appearance before reporters. He
said Obama has indicated that he has an open mind on the final decision
and “I take that as his answer.”

“You
can appreciate that I would not comment on the domestic politics of
this issue or any other issue here in the United States,” Harper said in
response to a reporter’s question.

The
Obama administration’s announcement to put off a decision on the
pipeline went over badly in Canada, which relies on the U.S. for 97
percent of Canada’s energy exports.

Obama
also warned congressional Republicans that he would reject any effort
to tie the pipeline project or other unrelated issues to the proposed
extension of a payroll tax cut that is set to expire on Jan. 1. Obama
stopped short of issuing a veto threat, saying he did not believe
lawmakers should let it come to that.

Supporters
say the pipeline could significantly reduce U.S. dependence on Middle
Eastern oil while providing thousands of jobs. Opponents say the
pipeline would bring “dirty oil” that requires huge amounts of energy to
extract. They also worry about possible spills, noting that a current
pipeline operated by TransCanada has had several spills in the past year.

Ahead
of Obama and Harper’s meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell,
R-Ky., said approving the pipeline would give Obama an opportunity to
follow through on his pledge to make job creation his top priority.
“Here’s the single greatest shovel-ready project in America, ready to
go, and for some reason he’s suddenly not interested,” McConnell said.

Obama and Harper also announced joint agreements to streamline and strengthen border management and regulations.

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Source: Ben Feller, The Associated Press

Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Rob Gillies contributed to this story.