US President Barack Obama signs autographs after delivering the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on January 20, 2015 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Keystone XL, not mentioned by the president, looms large in rebuttals from his adversaries. Pool Photo by Mandel Ngan/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- While touting oil independence during his State of the Union, it was the one word missing from the address, Keystone, that drew criticism for President Obama.
"Let's set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline," is all the president said during his State of the Union address on a project at the center of the agenda for the newly-minted Republican-led Congress.
At the start of the 114th Congress, Republican leaders placed Keystone XL at the top of its to-do list. The project meant formally to bring tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries has become a scapegoat for the debate about U.S. energy policies.
"The project is in the national interest of our country and the American people," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement last week. "It will create good jobs for our citizens, boost economic activity in our states and generate revenues for our communities."
Hoeven tried last year to push legislation through the Congress that would facilitate the approval process for Keystone XL, a pipeline offered for consideration by TransCanada more than six years ago. Past efforts were met by stiff opposition from Senate Democrats, who in the current Congress introduced amendments to pro-pipeline bills that are out of step with the Republican agenda.
The State Department is responsible for issuing a so-called presidential permit for the pipeline that would cross the U.S.-Canadian border. Obama said repeatedly he would veto any legislation designed to circumvent the conventional vetting process.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said in the Republican response to the president's speech Obama was out of step with the will of the Congress and of the people on the pipeline.
"President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it," she said.
Last week, the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the business interests of the oil and gas sector, said the president should use the national podium to seize the moment of U.S. abundance. API President Jack Gerard said Keystone was part of the $1 trillion in oil and gas infrastructure investments possible in the U.S. energy sector by 2025.
"But, as we've seen with the political delays over the Keystone XL pipeline, our government is often the biggest obstacle to private investment in our economy," he said.
A Nebraska court in early January ruled the state's governor had authority to sanction the pipeline's route through the state, clearing one of the remaining hurdles in the State Department review process. Jane Kleeb, director of pipeline opponent Bold Nebraska, which lobbied against the state's governor, said the state agricultural sector meant more to the Nebraska economy than Keystone XL.
"Rejecting this one pipeline is an act the president can make in a growing list of climate leadership for our families," she said.
The U.S. oil and gas sector, buoyed by shale reserves, is now among the world leaders in terms of production. The moment was not lost by the president, despite the debate surrounding Keystone XL.
"We are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we've been in almost 30 years," he said to a round of applause.