(Recasts; adds reactions from Canadian foreign minister,
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON Dec 19 U.S. President Barack Obama
said on Friday that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to
transport crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast would
only nominally benefit American consumers and workers in perhaps
his strongest comments on the Canada-to-U.S. pipeline to date.
"There is very little impact - nominal impact - on U.S. gas
prices, what the average American consumer cares about," Obama
told reporters during an end-of-year press conference.
Obama picked apart some of the most common arguments of its
proponents: that it would create jobs, lower domestic gasoline
prices and bolster the U.S. economy.
"There has been this tendency to really hype this thing as
some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy," Obama said.
His comments come as Republican leader Mitch McConnell has
said his party's first act in the new Republican-controlled
Senate would be to pass a bill fast-tracking approval of the $8
billion project, which would transport more than 800,000 barrels
of oil a day from Alberta to Nebraska en route to the Gulf of
Obama had been widely expected to veto a failed November
attempt in the Senate to approve the pipeline.
Construction workers, unions and energy companies vocally
support the pipeline. Environmentalists say developing Canada's
oil sands would spike carbon emissions and that much of the oil
or refined products would be sold abroad.
But Obama said there are better ways to spur job growth.
"When you consider what we could be doing rebuilding our
roads and bridges around the country, something the Congress
could authorize, we could probably create hundreds of thousands
of jobs - or even a million jobs," he said.
While Obama did not outright reject Keystone, his comments
marked the third time in four weeks that the president has
publicly questioned whether it is in the national interest.
"It's good for the Canadian oil industry, but its not going
to be a huge benefit to us consumers," he said.
Pipeline advocates said Obama does not acknowledge the role
Canadian oil plays in the United States.
"The president doesn't seem to understand that oil from
Canada is helping provide relief at the pump - right now," said
Matt Dempsey with pro-pipeline group Oil Sands Fact Check.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said Ottawa would
continue to work with Washington to press for approval.
"We're going to continue as a government to promote our
interest," he said.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Amanda Becker; additional
reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa)