The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama: Keystone XL could contribute to ‘disastrous’ climate change

Obama . (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Obama spoke in dismissive terms of the Keystone XL pipeline Monday during an interview on "The Colbert Report Monday, saying its modest benefits need to be weighed against its contribution to climate change, "which could be disastrous."

During an interview taped at George Washington University, the president did not explicitly say whether he would grant or deny a permit to the controversial project that would transport heavy crude from Hardisty, Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. But he highlighted many of the pipeline's disadvantages, and downplayed its benefits.

"We've got to make sure that it's not adding to the problem of carbon and climate change. We have to examine that, and we have to weigh that against the amount of jobs that it's actually going to create, which aren't a lot," he said. "Essentially, this is Canadian oil passing through the United States to be sold on the world market. It's not going to push down gas prices here in the United States. It's good for Canada."

Referring to the youthful audience at the taping, Obama emphasized how they would bear the brunt of climate change's impact.

"These young people are going to have to live in a world where we already know temperatures are going up," he said. "We've got to measure [the pipeline's benefit] against whether or not it's going to contribute to an overall warming of the planet -- which could be disastrous."

Last month the Post reported the president was likely to deny TransCanada's permit to build the pipeline unless forced to do so through a negotiation with Congress. Lawmakers tried unsuccessfully last month to pass legislation granting the permit, but fell one vote shy of approving a House-passed bill in the Senate.

The State Department issued a final environmental impact statement earlier this year that concluded the construction of the pipeline would not have a major impact on global greenhouse gas emissions because Canada’s bitumen reserves, which are processed into crude oil, would be exported by rail if the project was blocked. But that same analysis suggested this calculus could change if oil prices dropped to between $65 and $75 per barrel for a sustained period of time, since this would make shipping it by rail less profitable. Global oil prices now hover around the low $70s per barrel.