Keystone Round 2: Will Obama Blink?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but we’re still a nation desperately in need of jobs and revenue, right?

A new study commissioned by supporters of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline says Nebraska could reap close to $2 billion in economic benefits if the project were built.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, hired to conduct the analysis, said pipeline construction would create several thousand Nebraska jobs while ongoing operations would result in several hundred positions. Over the next 16 years, the pipeline would generate close to $60 million in property tax revenue for the counties where it would be located, Goss said.

There has been some chatter that President Obama will approve it this time around, although it is all pure conjecture at the moment. Lame-duck office holders do have the luxury of irritating the base as well as the opposition, however.

The conundrum for the president is that the Keystone issue places him squarely in between the two constituencies he holds most dear: Big Labor and the Enviromaniacs. While union support for the pipeline hasn’t been universal, Mr. Obama’s decision to nix it the first time around did anger some.

Mark H. Ayers, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO has publicly hammered the jobs issue. In a January 18th press release, Ayers voiced the frustration of many union workers, saying “…with a national unemployment rate in construction at 16 percent nationally, it is beyond disappointing that President Obama placed a higher priority on politics rather than our nation’s number one challenge: jobs.”

James T. Callahan, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, agrees, complaining to the Washington Post  that Obama’s decision was “…a blow to America’s construction workers,” who are struggling in “the sector hardest hit by the recession.”

In an effort to keep the peace with Big Labor when that happened, the president, naturally, blamed Republicans.

In his rejection of the pipeline, Obama blamed Republicans for forcing him to meet what the While House deemed an arbitrary deadline. This despite the fact that the State Department has had the application for Keystone since 2008, held 20 meetings on the subject, and produced a gargantuan 1,000 page Environmental Study to assess the possible consequences of the pipeline, which would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of the United States. As Rep. Joe Barton of Texas ruefully noted, the U.S. “fought and won World War II” in a shorter amount of time.

Proponents of the project continue to pressure President Obama. Today, he received a letter from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and ten Republican governors urging him to approve the pipeline.

The governors of Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming signed the letter, which also touts Keystone as a job-creating project.

“As legislators and decision-makers, we felt it imperative to speak up for a project that will contribute greatly to a safe, secure and long-term energy supply for North America,” Wall said in a statement. “We need greater pipeline capacity to move the oil – Canadian and American – that is vital to our shared goal of North American energy security.”

Who will win this family fight among strong Democrat constituencies? Will President Obama make his labor supporters happy and create jobs and taxable revenue in the process? Or will he continue his first term habit of wasting taxpayer money on unproven green companies that either yield few results or fail completely?

This would be a most opportune time for Bill Clinton to send some of his trademark political pragmatism over to the White House.