The White House on Monday hailed the news that a scaled-down portion of the Keystone XL pipeline that would stretch from Oklahoma to Texas will move ahead, but the president's critics said the move only underscored the need to approve the entire Canada-to-Texas project.
Calgary-based TransCanada, which is building the pipeline, said it could move ahead with the southern leg of the proposed 1,700-mile oil pipeline because it did not cross the U.S. border, thus did not need Mr. Obama's approval. The shorter pipeline is expected to cost roughly $2.3 billion and create some 4,000 jobs and will be completed next year.
But the move appeared unlikely to quiet the fierce criticism the White House has faced from congressional Republicans and business and labor groups who have lobbied hard for the pipeline.
"We welcome the White House support of TransCanada's efforts to move this segment forward, but President Obama needs to approve the entire pipeline now," said Marty Durbin, executive vice president at the American Petroleum Institute. "There's no better time to get more oil from our friendly neighbor to the north, Canada."
After first trying to put off a decision until after the November election, the White House in January refused to approve the entire project, saying it didn't have enough time to study the environmental impact of the pipeline. Mr. Obama, at the time, pushed for construction of the lower part of the pipeline to alleviate an oil glut at a notorious transport bottleneck in Cushing, Okla.
"As the president made clear in January, we support [TransCanada's] interest in proceeding with this project, which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production, currently at an eight-year high," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
But Rep. Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican, who has been a big supporter of the Keystone XL project, called the president's endorsement of the smaller pipeline a "glorification of the status quo."
Mr. Terry helped lead the effort in December to force Mr. Obama to make a quicker call on the pipeline application.
"I think that's another political move on their part," Mr. Terry said. "TransCanada doesn't require a presidential permit from Cushing to the Gulf. They could've built that anytime without the president's approval."
House GOP Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said in a statement released to ABC News: "The president is so far on the wrong side of the American people that he's now praising the company's decision to start going around him."
Environmentalists have raised alarms over the possibility of spills and the planned route through sensitive ecological areas in Nebraska. State and local laws govern the permit process for the southern leg, but Mr. Carney said the administration would "make sure that any federal permitting that is involved in the Cushing pipeline will be acted on very quickly."
TransCanada also gave the State Department notice of its intention to submit a new application for the Keystone segment from Canada to Steele City, Neb., once a new route through the state is identified that avoids sensitive environmental lands and water sources.
"Based on that work, we would expect our cross-border permit should be processed expeditiously and a decision made once a new route in Nebraska is determined," TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling said in a statement.
The White House indicated it will give the new application, which is strongly backed by the Canadian government, a fresh review.
"As we made clear, the president's decision in January in no way prejudged future applications," Mr. Carney said. "We will ensure any project receives the important assessment it deserves, and will base a decision to provide a permit on the completion of that review."
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