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Canada-Gulf Pipeline Pits Jobs Against Environment


President Obama and his administration are under pressure on another issue involving jobs. This one pits potential job growth versus environmental concerns. The State Department's considering whether to issue a permit that would allow the building of an oil pipeline that would extend from Canada all the way to the Gulf Coast. A final public hearing was held yesterday in Washington, D.C. NPR's Jeff Brady has our story.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The company behind the Keystone XL Pipeline, TransCanada, says approval would immediately lead to jobs for about 20,000 construction and manufacturing workers. That sounds good to Terence O'Sullivan. He's general president of the Laborer's International Union of North America.

TERENCE O'SULLIVAN: It is a depression-like situation for construction workers throughout our great country. Among our members, one in 10 has faced foreclosure on their homes, one in four has lost healthcare coverage.

BRADY: O'Sullivan calls the Keystone XL Pipeline a lifeline for his members. Just before the State Department hearing, his union held a rally outside.


BRADY: Darrell Smith from Baltimore stood at the back of the crowd.

DARRELL SMITH: I'm here because I need a job. So I've been out of work for about six months and I'm just trying to get back to work. I've got bills that are oncoming and me not working, it's hard to make it happen.

BRADY: Nearby, opponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline camped out overnight. During the labor rally, one of them wandered through the crowd with a bullhorn.


BRADY: The proposed pipeline would transport oil from Alberta's tar sands 1,700 miles south to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Since it crosses an international boundary, a special presidential permit is needed. That's why the State Department is overseeing the project. Making oil from tar sands emits more pollution than the traditional way of producing oil. Critics also are concerned the pipeline will pass over the Midwest Ogallala Aquifer. Rancher Susan Straka Luebbe travelled all the way from Stuart, Nebraska to give State Department officials this message.

SUSAN STRAKA LUEBBE: If I can't sell my cattle, if I can't sell my land, if I can't shower or drink the greatest tasting water on earth, when there is a leak in our aquifer, where will I work?

BRADY: TransCanada has tried to allay concerns by talking about the technology used to prevent spills. President and CEO Russ Girling says the pipeline will have 16,000 sensors monitoring it 24 hours a day.

RUSS GIRLING: This is a very high-tech operation. And if there's a problem, automatic shutoff valves can activate within minutes and shut off the flow of oil.

BRADY: Girling has a list of benefits to convince skeptics. Beyond job creation, he argues that it's best to get oil from a friendly neighbor like Canada than from the Middle East or Venezuela. But it's becoming clear that there are some people he will never convince.

GIRLING: At the end of the day, we're just building a pipeline from an oil supply source through the biggest refining location in the world. I would have thought that that would have been a no-brainer, to coin a phrase, and never expected this kind of opposition.


BRADY: Outside, Rachael Mark of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, says the Keystone XL project isn't just about the merits of the pipeline anymore. Mark says President Obama could stop this all on his own if he wants to.

RACHAEL MARK: If he says no to this it sends a signal to everybody who voted for him and hoped that he would change the direction of the country. But he needs it.

BRADY: With the environmental groups and some unions split on this issue, the administration risks angering supporters no matter what decision is made on the Keystone XL Pipeline. A decision is expected by the end of the year. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.