“If Keystone is coming, we need to have a workforce prepared and ready to go to work,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is customize our training for the companies in our area.”
Al Ekblad, executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO, said the 800 construction jobs TransCanada predicts the pipeline will bring to the state for 18 months will provide not just wages but also health insurance and pension benefits that will help many of his members recover from the recession.
“These are jobs they look at to get well,” Ekblad said. “It allows them to pay off the bills they’ve accumulated.”
Not everyone in Montana has embraced the pipeline. Irene Moffett, whose farm and ranch were along the project’s route until it changed, remains concerned a spill could pollute the soil and water.
And she called the 60,000 barrels a day of Bakken oil that Keystone would initially transport “just a drop in the bucket.”
“If they were going to put a pipeline in for the Bakken,” she said, “that would be a different thing.”
But the state’s Senate delegation has not expressed such reservations. Earlier in the permitting process, Baucus successfully lobbied for a design change in which TransCanada agreed to use thicker pipe along the Montana portion of its route. Tester had sought to add language to the highway bill that would require the oil shipped through the pipeline to be refined and sold in the United States, but it remains uncertain if such as provision could make it into law.
Obama officials have not announced when they will make a final decision on the permit, but it is unlikely to be before the November election.
“The process need not — should not — be politicized,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters June 4.
In the meantime, Montana Republicans will try to use the issue to deny Tester a second term in office.
“Tester bankrolls his campaign with the money from the same anti-job environmentalists leading the fight to kill the Keystone XL,” Montana GOP spokesman Chris Shipp said in an e-mail.
It is unclear whether these attacks — or efforts to tie Tester or Baucus to Obama’s delay of the pipeline — will succeed. In the meantime, Baucus acknowledged it might be hard to force a quick decision on the pipeline, but he said he would keep trying.
“I’ll continue my fight for Keystone because it means jobs for Montana and more independence from foreign oil,” he said after the Keystone provision was dropped from the highway bill. “We’ve done the analysis, and now it’s time to cut through the red tape and put Montanans back to work.”
Deborah Gordon, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the fact that technology is making new oil deposits accessible in nontraditional areas has changed the way politicians deal with energy.
“This is transforming energy into an every-place, every-man-for-himself play,” Gordon said.