President Obama’s rejection of a federal permit for the Keystone XL pipeline raised the question: Would unions hold it against him in the 2012 election? On Thursday, the nation’s plumbing and pipefitters union made it clear the answer was no.

President Barack Obama speaks at the United Auto Workers conference in Washington, Feb. 28, 2012. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry is one of a handful of labor groups that has lobbied hard for construction of the massive pipeline between Alberta’s oil sands and the Gulf Coast. Thursday morning it became the first building trades union to endorse the reelection of President Obama.

The union’s general president William P. Hite said in a statement that Obama’s economic record drove the group’s decision.

“President Obama took office in the midst of our nation’s most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Hite said, adding that “because of his extraordinary leadership in stabilizing the financial system and securing passage of the Recovery Act, we were able to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression and are now on a path to recovery that will ultimately leave our economy stronger and more resilient for the future.”

In October, Hite told the Post he saw the project as a key generator of jobs. “We promote it every chance we get,” he said.

Some unions and business groups have argued the project would provide a secure energy supply to the United States and create short-term construction and manufacturing jobs. Opponents argue extraction of energy-intensive heavy crude in Alberta will accelerate climate change, and an oil spill along the route could damage sensitive habitat.

When asked why the denial of TransCanada’s Keystone XL permit did not dissuade the union for throwing its lot in with Obama, the union’s executive vice president Rick Terven Sr. wrote in an e-mail, “The choice for America is clear.”

“He remains committed to moving this country forward, and his administration made clear in January they support the company’s interest in proceeding with this project. We are highly encouraged with TransCanada announcing they will start the portion of the Keystone pipeline that will run from Cushing, Okla. to the Gulf Coast and re-apply for the permit,” Terven wrote. “The United Association is not, and never has been, a single-issue union and that’s why, when you look at the big picture, President Obama is the leader we need.”

Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina welcomed the pipefitters’ endorsement, making no mention of the Keystone dispute. “President Obama has fought for and stood with America’s workers his entire career, and these workers know that their hard work should pay off,” Messina said in a statement. “Together, we’re fighting to ensure that middle-class families get the level playing field they deserve.”