WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers, split over whether to support a massive oil pipeline crossing the U.S.-Canada border, continue to lobby the Obama administration on both sides of the question.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Oct. 5, saying he had "serious concern" about allowing TransCanada to construct and operate a 1,700-mile-long pipeline between Hardisty, Alberta, and Port Arthur, Texas.
"The proponents of this pipeline would be wiser to invest instead in job-creating clean energy projects, like renewable power, energy efficiency or advanced vehicles and fuels that would employ thousands of people in the United States rather than increasing our dependency on unsustainable supplies of dirty and polluting oil that could easily be exported," Reid wrote.
The letter marked the first time that Reid weighed in on the question of whether the pipeline should go forward.
Several labor unions and business groups back the project, saying it will create thousands of construction jobs. On the other side, environmentalists have launched a massive effort to derail the permit, which has been the subject of a three-year federal review.
Critics of the pipeline contend that extracting the crude oil to be transported would add too much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere and that the pipeline might have spills that would harm valuable habitat along its route.
Stephen Brown, vice president of federal government affairs for oil refiner Tesoro Cos., asked why Reid was focused on promoting jobs in renewable energy after the recent bankruptcy of the solar-panel maker Solyndra, which received a $535 million federal loan guarantee.
"It will come as a shock to the tens of thousands of professional skilled American refinery workers, many of whom are union members, that their jobs do not have the same cachet as politically correct 'green jobs' in Solyndra-like endeavors," Brown wrote in an e-mail.
Twenty House Democrats, led by Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, wrote to President Barack Obama on Oct. 12, asking him to approve the pipeline. The State Department is charged with overseeing the permit, but the president would have to make the decision if any of the other agencies involved in the process challenge State's final determination.
"Across the U.S., Americans are calling for jobs today and the Keystone XL Pipeline project will do exactly that, plus provide huge benefits to our national and local economies, and increase our energy supply and independence from foreign oil," Green said in a statement. "I urge the President to act now and grant the permit so we can get started on this as soon as possible."