Just last week, a DC energy analyst who knows his way around the White House was putting the odds on the Obama administration approving the Keystone XL pipeline at 70%, with a 20% chance of delay, and 10% chance of rejection. Presumably that calculus has now changed. As Paul Wells has chronicled, U.S. president Barack Obama has been taking a strikingly more skeptical tone in recent days.
Part of the context is that Obama is traveling the country giving speeches aimed at showing he is focused on the economy and jobs. Republicans have been using the Keystone issues as part of their critique of Obama’s economic record. By dismissing the pipeline as a job creator — and drawing criticism from the Washington Post’s fact-checker — Obama is defending himself from GOP charges that he has cost the country jobs by delaying the permit.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s opposed to the pipeline. His comments in the New York Times were also given in the context of an interview about jobs and seemed to leave the door open to approval — but suggested that Canada could make it more likely by stepping up with new emissions regulations on the oil sands.
But today he struck an unusually derisive tone. Obama has always talked about the pipeline in painstakingly neutral tone, as if he were the chair of the Federal Reserve talking about interest rates — careful not to be seen to be prejudging the outcome of the State Department’s review process. Today, in a jobs-themed speech today in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he brought up the pipeline in the same breath as Republican efforts to overturn his health care reform :
“I’m going to lay out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot. But now it’s time for Republicans to lay out their ideas.
If they’ve got a better plan to bring back more manufacturing jobs here to Tennessee and around the country, then let them know — let me know. I want to hear them. If they’ve got a better plan to create jobs rebuilding our infrastructure or to help workers earn the high-tech skills that they need, then they should offer up these ideas.
But I’ve got to tell you, just gutting our environmental protection, that’s not a jobs plan. Gutting investments in education, that’s not a jobs plan. They keep on talking about this — an oil pipeline coming down from Canada that’s estimated to create about 50 permanent jobs — that’s not a jobs plan. Wasting the country’s time by taking something like 40 meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare is not a jobs plan. That’s not a jobs plan. (Applause.)