Will Environmentalists Kill the Keystone XL Pipeline?

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For more than four years, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline has been at the center of a heated battle between opponents and supporters.

Those who favor the 1,700-mile extension of the pipeline see it as a step toward North American energy independence and a source of tens of thousands of jobs.

But opponents say the Canadian-U.S pipeline would contribute to global warming and causeirreparable harm to the environment.

On Wednesday, about 50 opponents protested against the Keystone pipeline outside the White House, chanting, "Hey, Obama, we don't want no climate change drama."

The protesters, many of whom were arrested, included actress Daryl Hannah, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, renowned climate scientist James E. Hansen and civil rights veteran Julian Bonds.

Underscoring the intensity of environmentalists' opposition to the pipeline, the protest marked the first time the venerable, 120-year-old Sierra Club's board had approved an act of civil disobedience.

"It's awful hard to reconcile wanting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the dirtiest oil project in the country," Brune said. "The president gets this, he understands this challenge, and we're here to ensure his ambitions rise to the level of the challenge."

The Fate of the Keystone Pipeline

The battle over the $7 billion pipeline pits environmentalists against supporters, who include business and labor groups and congressional Republicans.

Supporters say the Keystone pipeline would generate $20 billion in private-sector investments in the U.S., create 20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 spinoff jobs and pay about $5 billion in taxes to local counties over the lifespan of the project.

The AFL-CIO said the delay has dragged on long enough.

After the protest Wednesday, Sean McGarvey, the AFL-CIO's president of building and construction trades, said the federation would increase its lobbying efforts to try to persuade President Obama to give the pipeline the green light.

"I expect the labor federation in the next couple weeks to come out affirmatively in support of the pipeline," McGarvey said.

The fate of the Keystone pipeline rests with U.S. President Barack Obama, who must issue a permit for it.

The president had rejected TransCanada's permit application last year, maintaining the administration didn't have enough time to fully weigh the costs and benefits of the project.

But President Obama likely postponed a ruling on the pipeline until after the 2012 election to appease the bloc of "green" voters who support him.

Environmentalists were none too pleased when Obama didn't mention the keystone pipeline when he spoke about climate change in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Is the president warming up to the Keystone pipeline or will he ultimately stop it?

We should know soon which way the Obama administration is leaning.

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird last week to discuss Keystone and said a decision would be made in the "near term."

The State Department, which has jurisdiction over the Keystone permit, is to release an environmental impact assessment of the pipeline within the next few weeks.

Is Pipeline Opposition Waning?

While Wednesday's White House protest garnered widespread attention, it paled in comparison to demonstrations against the pipeline in 2011 in which more than 1,000 people turned out.

The low turnout at the latest protest suggests some environmentalists might feel like they are losing the fight.

The original Keystone XL pipeline, which has been operating since 2010, is a 2,151-mile pipeline transporting Canadian crude oil to Cushing, OK, the Midwest oil hub. The extension would pass through North Dakota and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Texas. Read more Money Morning coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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