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Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Obama Pushes for Southern Leg of Keystone XL Pipeline to Texas

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

President Obama is visiting Cushing, Oklahoma today as part of a multi-day tour promoting his energy prices in the midst of high gas prices and Republican criticism. Cushing is an interesting stop for the President because it’s a major oil hub and it’s where the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline will begin.

That pipeline would take heavy crude harvested from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. The President had denied a permit last year for the entire pipeline – part of which went through sensitive aquifer areas of Nebraska. The company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, recently announced that it intended to go ahead and build the Oklahoma-to-Texas leg, which wouldn’t require approval by the State Department. (For a more thorough explainer and background, read our topic page on the Keystone XL pipeline.)

Based on his remarks, Obama is in favor of that plan. Noting that there’s a bottleneck in Cushing of oil, coming in from places like the oil sands of Alberta and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, the President said that he’s ”directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”

More from his remarks and some reactions from others:

“So the southern leg of it we’re making a priority, and we’re going to go ahead and get that done. The northern portion of it we’re going to have to review properly to make sure that the health and safety of the American people are protected.  That’s common sense.

But the fact is that my administration has approved dozens of new oil and gas pipelines over the last three years -– including one from Canada.  And as long as I’m President, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure and we’re going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.  We don’t have to choose between one or the other, we can do both.”

Not everyone is happy with the decision. Julia Trigg Crawford, a farmer in northeast Texas, has been fighting the company behind the pipeline for several years now. TransCanada wants to route it through her land, and she’s refused to allow it. Now the company is using eminent domain to construct the pipeline on her property.

“President Obama tells us he is green, but from my perspective his announcement today shows he’s anything but,” Crawford said in a statement today. “I also stand by my belief that TransCanada illegally asserts that its pipeline is a common carrier and is for the public good. My attorneys tell me we have a strong case and we are eagerly awaiting our day in court.” Crawford will be contesting TransCanada’s claim of eminent domain in a court hearing scheduled for late April. ”Should we win, and I wouldn’t be in this fight if I didn’t think we would, I hope that our case will give strength to other landowners who are still fighting for their property, and to those being bullied by a company falsely wielding the club of eminent domain,” Crawford said.

Environmental groups are also unhappy with the President’s remarks. The group Friends of the Earth released a statement as well:

“The Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline endangers the health of children whose lungs are being used as filters for oil refinery pollution, of families in the heartland whose drinking water is at risk of spills and of all of us counting on a safe climate. Later today, a year after multiple nuclear reactors exploded and melted down in Japan, President Obama is expected to announce more investment in dangerous nuclear reactors. It seems like the lessons of Fukushima are lost on the president.

President Obama can’t lead us into the 21st century and the promise of clean energy while going full throttle in reverse, toward the same outdated, dirty energy sources that threaten the health of Americans and fuel catastrophic climate change.”

And a group of Native Americans gathered in Cushing to protest the President’s remarks. In a press release, they said they “were forced by local authorities to hold their event in a cage erected in Memorial Park.”

More from their statement:

“A lot of tribal councils and Indian businesses struggle to find a balance between economic resources and our inherited responsibilities for the earth,” said Indian actor and activist Richard Ray Whitman in a statement. “How will the decisions we make now effect coming generations?”

“President Obama is an adopted member of the Crow Tribe, so his fast-tracking a project that will desecrate known sacred sites and artifacts is a real betrayal and disappointment for his Native relatives everywhere,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Tar sands is devastating First Nations communities in Canada already and now they want to bring that environmental, health, and social devastation to US tribes.”

While the President talked about the importance of oil resources in his speech, he also touted his “all of the above” energy strategy that includes renewables, clean energy and efficiency.

We’ll add comment from TransCanada when it comes in, and stay tuned for a report from StateImpact Oklahoma, whose reporter attended the President’s appearance today.

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