Big Question from President Obama’s Press Conference: Where is He Getting His Talking Points for Keystone XL?

Today, President Obama opened his end-of-the-year press conference, proclaiming that 2014 was a “year of action” – meanwhile it’s clear that after six years and five environmental assessments, President Obama still has not even bothered to read the State Department’s report on Keystone XL.   If he had, he would know that every one of his talking points has been answered.

Gas Prices Claims

President Obama made the dubious claim today that the pipeline would “save Canadian oil companies a lot of money” but won’t help American consumers because it will have little impact on gas prices.

All President Obama has to do is look around him to see that he’s completely off base.  Americans are already reaping the benefits of lower gas prices, thanks to the North American energy boom – and Canadian oil sands have played a large role in that growth. As Daniel Yergin explains in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed about why oil prices have dropped, “The demand for oil—by China and other emerging economies—is no longer the dominant factor. Instead, the surge in U.S. oil production, bolstered by additional new supply from Canada, is decisive.”

Yergin is right: oil sands are already playing a leading role in increased energy security here in the United States. As a recent report by IHS CERA notes, “Canadian oil sands have moved from the fringe to become a key pillar of global oil supply. This growth has made oil sands the single largest source of U.S. oil imports.”

This is something that news outlets have been tracking for months.  As the New York Times reported just before families hit the road for Labor Day this year, many Americans found themselves able to afford more road trips due to lower gas prices. The article quoted Tom Kloza, who said  “We can thank Texas, North Dakota and Canada” for these lower gas prices.

Jobs Claims

While President Obama admitted the jobs from Keystone XL “are not completely insignificant” he again repeated his claim that the pipeline would only create around 2,000 jobs.

Last time he said that, reporters understandably were wondering where in the world he was getting that number, especially considering that the State Department found Keystone XL would create 42,100 jobs.  As the Washington Post reported, “[T]he White House could not say late Saturday what analysis Obama is basing his 2,000 jobs estimate on…”  The Hill, too, contacted the White House but they “didn’t respond.”  A reporter even asked the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki where President Obama got his numbers.  While she gave it her best shot, she had to conclude, “Well, sure. It sounds like there’s some confusion on this issue …”

The Washington Post Fact Checker also rightly gave President Obama “Two Pinocchios” for giving a “low-ball estimate” on job numbers.  The Fact Checker added, “Ordinarily, we would expect the president to cite an estimate from his own State Department, rather than a think tank opposed to the project.”  The Tampa Bay Times Politifact said that President Obama’s job numbers were simply “false.”  Even union and labor groups have fact checked the president on this claim.  As President of Teamsters James Hoffa wrote an op ed, “Completing the final segment of the pipeline from Nebraska to the Canadian border would employ upwards of 2,500 Teamsters and would infuse millions of dollars into local economies.”

As for his claim that Keystone XL is “not some magic formula” for the U.S. economy, we’re willing to bet that $2 billion in workers’ pockets – which is what the State Department found Keystone XL would generate – is pretty magical for the people who desperately need those jobs.

Export Claims

And what about President Obama’s claim that Keystone XL crude would be “sold all around the world”?  Last time the president said that, the Washington Post Fact Checker said his claim “earns Three Pinocchios. We nearly made it Four Pinocchios.

If President Obama had read the State Department’s report, he would know that he deserved every one of those Pinocchios, as it concluded:

“In addition to the concerns expressed about exports of refined products, there is a question of whether the oil sands/Western Canadian Select (WCS) crude oil transported into Gulf Coast markets via the proposed Project may be simply “passed through” the market and loaded onto vessels for ultimate sale in markets such as Asia or Europe. Under the current market outlooks, such an option is unlikely to be economically justified primarily due to transportation costs. Once the WCSB crude oil arrives at the Gulf Coast, the refiners there have a significant competitive advantage in processing it compared to foreign refiners because the foreign refiners would have to incur additional transportation charges to have the crude oil delivered from the Gulf Coast to their location.” (emphasis added)

Nebraska Ruling Claims

Perhaps the claim that takes the cake from President Obama was that “once [the Nebraska decision] is resolved” a decision on the pipeline can be made. As Speaker Boehner’s press office rightly pointed out,

“This has been roundly mocked as an ‘excuse’ by newspaper editorial boards around the country, from the Chicago Tribune to The Washington Post to The Dallas Morning News. The latter called the court case “a side issue, and the White House knows it’s not a legitimate reason to delay a decision.”

The National Association of Manufacturers joined a number of labor and business groups in a letter telling President Obama that his latest Keystone XL delay, ostensibly due to the Nebraska court rulings, is completely unjustified. You know the excuse is ridiculous when even the Washington Post calls it “absurd” and “embarrassing.”

Climate Test

Of course, President Obama mentioned again that the decision comes down to his climate test – and it’s overwhelmingly clear the pipeline passes with flying colors.  In addition to the State Department, research institutions and dozens of prominent energy and climate experts have said Keystone XL will have a negligible impact on the climate.  International Energy Agency (IEA) chief economist Fatih Birol said recently, “the additional contribution [of greenhouse gases] coming from the oil sands in Canada, compared to the same amount of oil from Middle East or Brazil or central Asia, is completely peanuts.”

Sounds like Tom Steyer

What’s interesting is that President Obama’s talking points actually sound curiously like those of Tom Steyer and the anti-Keystone XL crowd.  Remember when Steyer blasted out campaign ads saying Keystone XL would be an export pipeline and the Washington Post Fact Checker said, it “does not even meet the minimal standards for such political attack ads. It relies on speculation, not facts, to make insinuations and assertions not justified by the reality”?  The New Yorker said that another of Steyer’s ads making these same claims may be “good political theater” but “as a lesson in global-oil economics, the ad lacked context.”

One of Steyer’s other stunts was to release a report claiming that Keystone XL will raise the price of gas at the pump – a claim that is directly contradicted by the State Department, which found, “Midwest product prices are derived from Gulf Coast prices, both of which are in turn driven by international (rather than U.S. inland) crude oil prices. Enabling (additional volumes of) WCSB crudes to flow to the Gulf Coast would not change this dynamic.”

And let’s not forget the ad Steyer put out last year in which Steyer proclaims: “A state department analysis found that Keystone will create just 35 permanent jobs.” Hmm… sounds strangely like something President Obama said recently.  Fortunately, USA Today made sure to fact check Steyer when that ad came out, clarifying that those figures “come from a draft State Department review, which also found the pipeline would generate 42,100 direct and indirect jobs during a two-year construction phase.”

Bottom Line

While President Obama concludes his year of inaction on Keystone XL, the support for the pipeline grows apace.  The newest poll found that 7 in 10 voters (that’s 68 percent!) favor building Keystone XL.

If President Obama is really getting his talking points from Tom Steyer, not only is he wrong, he’s siding with the fringe anti-Keystone XL minority, whose goal is to shut down fossil fuel development altogether – and the jobs, economic growth and energy security that come with it.

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