James Jones, former national security adviser to President Obama and retired commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, is helping the oil industry make its case for the Keystone XL pipeline through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

The pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada's tar sands region, has become a rallying point for climate change activists who oppose it. Obama soon must decide whether to approve a permit to build the project — a decision sure to anger one side or the other.

Jones, 69, now is a paid adviser to the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry trade group, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supporters of the project. He also is a proponent of revamping and centralizing the U.S. government's energy policy.

He spoke with the Star Tribune while visiting Minnesota to address a rural cooperative meeting.

Q: What did you learn as a military leader that influences your thinking about energy?

A: The more senior you become in the military the more important it is to understand the difference between issues and objectives that are strategic vs. those that are operational and tactical. A fact of life in the 21st century is that national security and global stability depend on prosperity — at home and abroad. These objectives can't be achieved without ample and affordable supplies of energy. It's clear that energy is a strategic economic and security issue for our country that will shape our prospects — economic and security — in the decades to come.

Q: If you were advising President Obama, what would you tell him about Keystone XL?

A: This administration has the potential to leave a legacy on energy that is quite bright for the country. The Keystone XL pipeline is an element of that legacy and an important one not only because of the jobs and energy security it offers, but it impacts the geostrategic relationship we have with our closest ally to the north, Canada. The project can help ensure a securer energy future for North America. Moreover, it would send an important message to international markets that our country intends to capitalize on our energy leadership and resource abundance.

Q: Do you also support Enbridge Energy's expansion of its Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries the same kind of oil from Canada through Minnesota to the Midwest?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: Do you believe that greenhouse gases from human activity are changing the climate, or do you doubt the science?

A: I'm not a scientist, but I take environmental concerns very seriously, as we all should. The State Department concluded in an environmental impact statement, however, that there is no appreciable impact on our climate as a result of this pipeline. I would also say that I believe in the "all of the above" energy strategy, including renewables. Fundamentally, I believe that keeping our economy strong and our innovation system vibrant — which requires energy security — will position us best to meet the economic, security, and environmental challenges ahead, as sound science and good sense dictate.

Q: What do you think of the strategy of climate activists who are trying to block these pipelines as a way to address global warming?

A: There are 800,000 miles of pipeline in the country. The Keystone XL would expand that by a very small fraction. Moreover, the oil will be going to market either through Keystone XL or by some other means, so killing this project will not achieve an environmental objective. It will just mean lost jobs, greater energy insecurity, and a weaker economy — at a time when we need all three to progress and to continue pioneering bona fide solutions to pressing national challenges across the board.

Q: The military has long supported development of biofuels. Do you agree with that?

A: We have the most diverse energy portfolio of any country in the world, and that's a good thing. It's a blessing. I don't think we should hang our hat on any one source, because we don't have enough of any one thing; but we have enough of everything. So, I strongly support the development of biofuels. The U.S. military has a long history of innovation — advancements that have provided not only important defense benefits but has served our economy at large very well. Pioneering the development and use of GPS is one of the more recent examples among many. What's clear is that our defense capabilities depend on ample and diverse energy supplies. The development of alternative fuels is an important piece of that puzzle. Our military can bring key assets and expertise to the biofuels development effort which will greatly benefit both our security and our economy. I don't have any difficulty with that and I know some very good people in the military who are engaged in that important mission.

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090 • Twitter: @ShafferStrib