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Keystone XL oil pipeline ensnared in political gamesmanship

Republicans tried to force Obama's hand on the permit to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and now he's forced theirs. The fight may not be over, signaling that energy will be a 2012 campaign issue. 

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 Many energy-state Democrats, as well as trade unions with a stake in the project, backed the pipeline and opposed Obama’s decision to sideline it. The Laborers’ International Union of North America called the White House decision “politics at its worst.”

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“Once again the president has sided with environmentalists instead of blue collar construction workers – even though environmental concerns were more than adequately addressed,” said LIUNA president Terry O’Sullivan, in a statement. “Blue collar construction workers across the US will not forget this.”

The pipeline, which is to extend from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas, is projected by its owner to create some 20,000 jobs in construction and related suppliers and to deliver some 830,000 barrels of oil per day to US refineries – or about half of what the US currently imports from the Persian Gulf.

Environmentalists caution that a spill could be disastrous, especially in the scenic Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer, where the pipeline is currently sited.  

“The Keystone XL pipeline is a complex project which deserved the careful consideration regarding its environmental and economic impacts that the Obama administration planned to provide,” said the National Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups and unions, in a statement on Jan. 18. They called the GOP push for a rapid decision in exchange for extending payroll tax cuts “a cynical move.”

Obama administration officials say approval of the pipeline project is still possible, but it will require owner TransCanada to propose a new route through Nebraska.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, is ramping up its own campaign to dub the White House decision “part of a deliberate Democrat strategy to ‘explicitly abandon’ the working class in 2012.

“Canada has energy and jobs that could be destined for the United States of America, and this administration has just decided that instead they should be destined for China,” said House GOP conference chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, at a briefing on Jan. 18. “It’s a sad day.”

Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on energy and the environment 

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