Bryan Templeton is facilities manager at the Keystone facility in Hardisty, Alberta (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post Bryan Templeton is facilities manager at the Keystone facility in Hardisty, Alberta (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

Climate activist Tom Steyer is launching a new line of attack in his effort to derail the Keystone XL pipeline: It helps China.

A television ad that will run in the hour before and after the State of the Union address Tuesday on MSNBC suggests the controversial project, proposed to span the Canada-U.S. border, will deliver "a sucker punch to America’s heartland" because it will mainly benefit Chinese investors.

"Chinese government-backed interests have invested thirty billion dollars in Canadian tar sands development. And China just bought one of Canada’s largest producers," intones the ad, sponsored by NextGen Climate Action. "They’re counting on the U.S. to approve TransCanada’s pipeline to ship oil through America’s heartland and out to foreign countries like theirs."

"The oil lobbyists and politicians," it adds, "They take Americans for suckers."

TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, just began transporting heavy crude through the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. But it is still waiting for the State Department to decide whether to issue a permit for the 1,179-mile northern leg that would carry predominantly heavy oil from Canada’s oil sands, cross the border in Montana and run to the small town of Steele City, Neb.

While the oil will be processed in facilities on the Gulf Coast, at least some of it will end up being shipped overseas as refined products. The ad suggests that will benefit China and other countries more than the United States.

"More power for their economy," the narrator says. "And more carbon pollution for the world."

TransCanada spokesman James Millar wrote in an e-mail "it just doesn’t make any economic sense" to ship the oil to the Gulf Coast and then pay to put it on tankers to China when there are tankers bringing imported oil into the U.S. at the same time.

While Millar did not address the issue of refined products in his email, he noted that the firm's CEO Russ Girling rejected this same idea of exporting heavy crude in a press conference last week, saying, "Not a chance. Not in my lifetime. I have talked to every one of our customers, both producers and refiners, I've asked them the question again - do you have any intent of shipping any of this crude oil offshore and the answer is absolutely not. We could not be any clearer.”

The State Department is poised to issue a final environmental impact statement on the project soon, but a final decision by the administration would not come for at least three and-a-half months after the assessment is issued.