President Barack Obama finally seems to be standing his ground in the philosophical fight with Republicans over the direction of the country.

The decision to not approve the Keystone oil pipeline was the right one. Obama clearly signaled to Republicans, Big Oil and his own supporters that he won’t be blackmailed into a rushed judgment on an environmentally sensitive project that has not been adequately studied.

Now, of course, the GOP will say that Obama failed to grasp an opportunity to create jobs. But he’s on solid ground. This was an obvious political ploy, and caving in would have left the president — and the nation — in a far worse position.

House Republicans, backed by the petroleum industry, forced the president’s hand by inserting language into the payroll tax bill that required him to say yes or no to the pipeline within 60 days. It was preposterous. The 1,700-mile route from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico hasn’t even been established, in part because of possible risks to Nebraska’s drinking water. And that’s not just environmentalist carping.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, is one of many who think the proposed route doesn’t work because it runs through a crucial aquifer in his state.

Heineman knows the risks are real. A similar existing pipeline has leaked nearly a dozen times in the past year, and a spill from a tar sands oil pipeline in Michigan in 2010 dumped 800,000 gallons into a creek that feeds the Kalamazoo River, causing severe damage and proving to be significantly more difficult to clean up than expected.

Pipeline proponents are hammering the president’s decision, repeating assertions that the pipeline oil supplies would create as many as 250,000 jobs across the country over the long term. According to GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, “If Americans want to understand why unemployment in the United States has been stuck above 8 percent for the longest stretch since the Great Depression, decisions like this one are the place to begin.”

The oil industry’s job numbers for the project, however, are wildly inflated. Like job estimates for the high-speed rail project in California, Keystone really counted job years — one year of work for one person — and expressed them as jobs.

Independent sources now are estimating about 6,000 actual temporary construction jobs, which would barely put a dent in national unemployment numbers.

Obama didn’t rule out the pipeline altogether, but he should have. Rather than encouraging huge investments to eke out a few more years of fossil fuel addiction, the United States should be encouraging clean energy projects that are proven job creators, building on Silicon Valley tech expertise and making the country more competitive on the world stage.

Oh, and reducing global warming: The pipeline and the method of oil extraction that would feed it are horrific generators of greenhouse gases.

Obama’s decision postpones that debate for another day, but he did what he needed to do now. He showed he would not pander. He also showed that he will stand up for the rights of Americans to clean water supplies — even Americans in Republican states such as Nebraska.

Good thing Heineman didn’t have to rely on his own party to watch his back.

Editorial by the San Jose Mercury News distributed by MCT Information Services