Watch: State Department on President Obama’s Keystone XL Jobs Claims: “Sounds like there’s some confusion on this issue”

Imagine you are the spokesperson at the State Department live on TV having to answer questions from a number of reporters trying to find out how President Obama came up with the Keystone XL job numbers he cited in his New York Times interview this weekend.

They certainly didn’t come from the State Department Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

On Monday, Oil Sands Fact Check sent out an Issue Alert questioning whether President Obama had even read the State Department’s report on Keystone XL. If he had, why didn’t he use the numbers that professionals in his own administration had researched for nearly five years? And if he’s not relying on the experts at State, where exactly did he get his numbers from?

These are the questions reporters have been asking this week but have yet to get an answer out of the White House.  “[T]he White House could not say late Saturday what analysis Obama is basing his 2,000 jobs estimate on…” reports the Washington Post. The Hill, too, contacted the White House but they “didn’t respond.”

The Washington Post Fact Checker summed up the White House’s mystery job numbers this way:

“Ordinarily, we would expect the president to cite an estimate from his own State Department, rather than a think tank opposed to the project. (Note to President Obama: When researching such matters, reporters generally look askance at estimates produced by advocates or foes of a particular issue.)  Of course, perhaps the president just took State Department estimate of the construction jobs and divided it in half, to come up with an (incorrect) yearly figure. But that doesn’t make much sense either, because the White House routinely claimed the job gains created by the stimulus by adding up the number of “person-years” — in other words, one person employed per year. That’s how the White House could claim 3 million jobs were saved or created by the stimulus through 2012. (See Table 12 of this White House report.) Thus, using the White House’s stimulus math, the president should be saying Keystone XL would create as many as 7,800 construction jobs.”

The Tampa Bay Times Politifact did some homework too and found that even the Sierra Club had higher job numbers than President Obama on Keystone XL: “We looked at the website of the Sierra Club, one of the leading environmental groups opposed to the pipeline, and they used the State Department’s 3,900 annual number.” As Politifact put it, President Obama’s job numbers are simply “false”:

Our ruling

Obama said the Keystone XL pipeline might produce about 2,000 jobs during construction, based on the most reliable estimates. The White House provided no supporting evidence and the administration’s own State Department predicted that while the pipeline would produce few permanent jobs, the construction process itself would create nearly twice as many jobs as the president said.

We rate the statement False.

Perhaps today’s Grand Forks Herald editorial put it best: “This is pretty close to ludicrous.”

Which brings us back to the poor State Department spokesperson, who was left trying to explain this whole situation on live TV.  She certainly gave it her best shot before finally saying, “Well, sure. It sounds like there’s some confusion on this issue, so why don’t I take the question…”

Full Transcript

QUESTION: Keystone XL Pipeline.

QUESTION: Yeah. Actually —

QUESTION: Has the State Department changed its estimate on the number of jobs that will be created during the construction phase of the Keystone XL Pipeline? And it seems like you’re about to read something.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t believe we’ve changed our —

QUESTION: So 5- to 6,000 is what you’re thinking per year; is that correct, Jen?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check back on what —

QUESTION: That’s what the —

MS. PSAKI: — specifically we’ve put out in the past, but I’m not aware of any change.

QUESTION: Okay. So the State Department – that’s what they’ve said before, is 5- to 6,000 per year. And this past weekend, in an interview with The New York Times, the President said that it may be 2,000 during the construction phase. So there seems to be a disconnect between what the President is saying and what the State Department is projecting. Is – do you see it the same way?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any changes to what our projections are.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. My question is very much similar —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — but my understanding was in the environmental impact statement that the State Department put out in March, was that the project would potentially support approximately 42,000 average annual jobs across the United States over the construction period, which is a lot more than 4- or 5,000, and would seem to put the President way, way below what you guys have projected. So an answer to that question would be most appreciated.

MS. PSAKI: Well, sure. It sounds like there’s some confusion on this issue, so why don’t I take the question —


MS. PSAKI: — and we’ll get you all an answer on what the projections are in the most recent assessment.

QUESTION: And then just the other thing, briefly, on this one: Is there any update on when this decision is going to be made?

MS. PSAKI: There is not an update.

QUESTION: Because we have been told first quarter – this is why the answer to the question, “When nine months is over” is important, okay, because we were told it was going to be the first quarter, second quarter. We’re now at the end of July.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the federal review process is still underway. One of the factors here, Matt, was that there were 1.2 million comments in response to the public comment period. Those need to be posted and considered, so we’re still in the federal review process. But I don’t have any update on exact timing of plans for a decision.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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