President Obama made a quick reference to the Keystone XL pipeline in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night—the first time the six-year-old debate merited a mention in his annual address. Environmentalists are cheering it, but Obama actually never framed Keystone as an environmental issue. He framed it as an infrastructure debate, instead.
“21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”
By mentioning Keystone in the context of infrastructure, Obama was rebutting Republicans’ favorite argument for the pipeline: They say Obama is blocking thousands of temporary construction jobs along with necessary infrastructure by delaying TransCanada’s Keystone proposal. In response, Obama argued for "a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come."
It's not surprising he'd weigh in now, given how Keystone has dominated the first few weeks of debate in the new Republican Congress. Lately, Obama has sounded skeptical of the pipeline’s economic benefits, but we still don't have many clues as to how he will decide Keystone's final fate in coming months.
Green groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council and 350.org, applauded Obama for mentioning Keystone. Still, his strongest environmental remarks didn't mention Keystone. They came later, when Obama slammed the GOP's denial of climate change science. "I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act," he said. "Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe."