WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and other key Republicans introduced a bill Wednesday to try to force the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
The legislation, which has the backing of top Republicans on Senate energy and foreign relations committees, requires the administration to approve a permit for the 1,700-mile oil pipeline within two months of the bill's passage unless the president determines it is not in the national interest to do so.
The Obama administration recently postponed a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 elections, saying it wants to consider alternative routes in Nebraska. Citizens in that state complained that the pipeline would pose a risk to the Ogallala Aquifer, a source of drinking water.
The Keystone XL pipeline, proposed by TransCanada Corp. (TRP, TRP.T) in 2008, would stretch from Alberta to Texas and pass through six U.S. states. The pipeline would transport oil taken from tar sands, an unconventional petroleum deposit that requires additional processing before it can be used.
While the fate of the bill in the Democrat-controlled Senate is unclear, the legislation does signify Republicans' intentions to exploit the issue heading into an election year. McConnell said at a press conference Wednesday that the president “obviously is making an effort here to curry favor with environmental activists who are skeptical--or beyond skeptical, downright opposed--to this project.“
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking to reporters Wednesday aboard Air Force One, dismissed suggestions that the pipeline decision was delayed until after the 2012 presidential election for political purposes.
“I recognize that there are people in Washington, D.C., who want to apply a political label to every single thing that the president or other members of this administration do,“ Earnest said. “But at the end of the day this decision falls cleanly in line with the priorities that the president laid out.“
The State Department is reviewing the pipeline to determine whether it's in the country's best interest to allow its construction. That department has oversight of the issue because the pipeline would cross national boundaries.
Environmental groups have launched an intense battle to defeat the pipeline proposal. In November, they helped to organize a protest that involved thousands of people forming a human chain around the White House. The groups applaud the Obama administration's move to delay a decision on the project.
“The last thing we need is to increase our dependence on even dirtier and more dangerous sources of oil, such as tar sands oil,“ Environment America federal transportation advocate John Cross said in a statement.
The bill introduced Wednesday has the backing of 37 senators. It was co-authored by Sens. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) and Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), among others. Lugar is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Murkowski holds that seat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
House Republicans have not introduced a similar measure, although the House did pass a bill earlier this year that forced the administration to make a decision on the pipeline by Nov. 1. That bill was not approved by the Senate.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the Keystone pipeline on Friday.
The oil and gas industry says the president will have to defend his decision to delay and potentially reject a pipeline that could create thousands of jobs.
The move to delay a decision “is a liability at a time when we see unemployment and stagnant job growth remain so stubbornly high,“ American Petroleum Institute Executive Vice President Marty Durbin said.
--Jared Favole contributed to this article.
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