Obama hides from XL pipeline decision

With his eyes firmly on the 2012 prize, President Barack Obama is distancing himself from an inevitable presidential decision to approve or deny construction of the planned Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas.

TransCanada Corporation has proposed to build the $7 billion pipeline to transfer crude oil from tar sands fields in Canada to the United States, where it can be refined.

The president is avoiding the decision because it requires him to choose between these two important parts of his political base — the environmentalists who oppose oil energy, and the unionized blue-collar workers who want to build the $7 billion U.S. portion of the pipeline. The Washington Examiner reports that the Canadian Energy Research Institute says the pipeline would create as many as 435,000 U.S. jobs by 2035.

The White House’s public relations shuffle was demonstrated Monday by spokesman Jay Carney, and by the State Department’s inspector general, who announced an investigation of TransCanada’s plan.

The White House’s efforts to delay the decision may prompt the company to cancel the project, and instead build a pipeline to a West Coast port in Canada, where the oil could be exported to China.

Last week, the president casually described himself as the final arbiter in the federal review of the construction approval process. “I’ll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me,” Obama told an Omaha TV interviewer.

But in Monday’s daily press conference, Carney rushed to rewrite the president’s televised remarks.

“The [review] process itself, as established by an executive order signed under the previous administration, as established by long precedent prior to that, is run out of the State Department … [and] involves inputs from a lot of different agencies and departments within the executive branch, and it would be — it will be — driven by the criteria the president has discussed.”

Monday’s announced investigation by the State Department’s inspector general also pulled attention from the president’s role.

The new investigation could let Obama postpone any decision on the pipeline past the election.