Montana supporters, opponents of Keystone XL oil pipeline parse Obama’s comments

2013-06-26T17:19:00Z 2013-08-22T19:13:56Z Montana supporters, opponents of Keystone XL oil pipeline parse Obama’s commentsBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — President Barack Obama’s comments Tuesday on the future of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline gave hope to both pipeline supporters and opponents — or, depending on how you look at it, didn’t clear up anything.

On Wednesday, some supporters of the pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to refineries near the Gulf Coast, via Montana, said Obama’s comments indicate its construction will be approved by the U.S. State Department.

Obama, during a landmark speech on climate change policies, said the 1,700-mile pipeline would be approved if it doesn’t “significantly exacerbate” greenhouse gas emissions.

Russ Girling, president and CEO of TransCanada, the Canadian firm proposing the pipeline, said several environmental reviews have shown that Keystone won’t increase greenhouse gas emissions.

“TransCanada is pleased with the president’s guidance to the State Department, as the almost five-year review of the project has already repeatedly found that these criteria are satisfied,” he said.

Montana U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, both Democrats and pipeline supporters, said the same thing — that environmental reviews have said building the pipeline won’t increase carbon emissions.

“The president just confirmed what I’ve been saying for years: It’s time to build the Keystone pipeline,” Baucus said. “By his own definition, there are no more excuses left.”

But a leading Montana opponent of the pipeline said Wednesday that it will increase greenhouse gas emissions, and if the president meant what he said, the pipeline should be rejected.

Anne Hedges, program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, said the pipeline would enable more development of the Alberta tar sands — and that tar sand oil production is a huge carbon emitter.

“You can’t develop the tar sands and address climate change at the same time,” she said. “Based on what (the president) said, you cannot approve Keystone. … It is not in the national interest.”

A spokesman for Montana’s petroleum industry said Wednesday that there’s no reason the Keystone XL pipeline shouldn’t be built, and that it would help producers near the Montana-North Dakota border transport some of their oil as well.

But Dexter Busby, acting president of the Montana Petroleum Association, said he’s not sure what to make of Obama’s comments, noting they could cut either way.

Busby, however, disagreed with Hedges on the whether stopping the pipeline would negatively affect tar sand development.

“That oil is going to move, whether Keystone is built or not, whether it be by truck or rail or tanker,” he said. “(The pipeline) is just a better option.”

One Montana pipeline supporter saw the president’s comments on Keystone as a negative.

U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican, said Tuesday that Obama’s speech amounted to “waging a war on American energy,” and that the president is “imposing further barriers to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

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