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Did Obama’s State of the Union give us clues about his decision on KXL?

Given US President Barack Obama is expected to decide on the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline as early as this April, many were watching his State of the Union address last night for clues on what his decision might be.

The stakes are high. For corporations, it’s about massive profits from oil exports. For us, we’ve highlighted that stopping pipelines is the most effective way to curtail the unsustainable growth, carbon emissions and environmental damage associated with the northern Alberta tar sands. Both are underscored by RBC Dominion Securities Inc. stating earlier this week that as much as a third of tar sands growth – 450,000 barrels a day – could be put on hold between 2015 and 2017 if Obama rejects the Keystone XL pipeline.

So what are Canadian media pundits making of Obama’s SOTU?

Shawn McCarthy at the Globe and Mail writes, “The President gave little indication that his renewed focus on climate change will doom TransCanada Corp.’s plan to build the Keystone XL pipeline… He did warn that without congressional action, he will undertake executive action, ‘now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.’ …The President talked about the importance of producing more domestic oil and gas. And he mentioned energy pipelines only in reference to the need to modernize America’s aging infrastructure.”

But CBC News Senior Washington Correspondent Neil Macdonald writes, “Canada’s government may be heartened by one short phrase in the speech: ‘My administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.’ Will that extend to permitting the extension of the Keystone pipeline, despite the fact it will be carrying what environmentalists (and many Democrats) consider dirty oil from Alberta oil sands? Canadian administration watchers here think the answer is yes. But you can certainly count on endless parsing of those words in Canada’s circles of power in the days to come.”

Not specifically referring to the State of the Union address, Toronto Star National Affairs Columnist Tim Harper writes, “Most still expect Keystone to finally get the Obama nod, probably by early summer, couched by the administration as needed energy security and likely as part of a package that includes a number of clean energy initiatives. But an increase in U.S. supply and the growth of fracking makes Alberta bitumen less crucial and Ottawa is aware that a preoccupation with a southern market is a losing proposition.”

And prior to the State of the Union address, the Financial Post’s Terence Corcoran wrote, “I see new taxes coming in the United States, including an energy or carbon tax, to try to cover the deficits. The new energy tax would serve as partial cover for President Obama’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. …The bargain offered Canada would be this: We accept your oil and gas, but if you don’t put a carbon tax on it we will. In other words, a North American carbon tax would unite Canada and the United States. Ottawa and Alberta seem ready for anything to get Keystone approved.”

While the media reports include businesspeople spinning that Obama will approve KXL, some also included this quote from 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who also spoke at the Council of Canadians most recent annual general meeting in Nanaimo – “I’m glad to see the President after the long, odd silence of the campaign, ratcheting up the rhetoric about climate change. The test of that rhetoric will be what he does about the purest, simplest test: the Keystone XL pipeline.”

The Council of Canadians is encouraging everyone who can to make their way to the #ForwardOnClimate rally in Washington, DC this weekend, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=19244. More than 20,000 people are expected to converge near the White House this Sunday to give a clear message to the President – no KXL!