WASHINGTON (AP) — In 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.
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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.