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Obama, GOP back in tussle over oil pipeline

By Matthew Daly

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 12:45 a.m. MST

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress are back where they were before Christmas, locked in an election-season tussle over a proposed 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.

Republicans hope to again force Obama to make a politically risky decision, while he is seeking to put it off until after the November election.

Obama blocked the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday, at least temporarily, but Republicans signaled their intention to again to force the issue.

Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he will call Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who recommended Obama's rejection, to testify at a hearing as early as next Wednesday. That's the day after Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

"This is not the end of the fight. Republicans in Congress will continue to push this because it's good for our country and it's good for our economy and it's good for the American people," especially those who are out of work, said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republicans are looking to drive a wedge between Obama and two key Democratic constituencies. Some labor unions support the pipeline as a job creator, while environmentalists fear it could lead to an oil spill disaster.

The plan by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, through a 1,700-mile pipeline across six U.S. states to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Obama was already on record as saying no, for now, until his administration could review an alternate route that avoided environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska — a route that still has not been proposed. But in an unrelated tax deal he cut with congressional Republicans, Obama had been boxed into making a decision by Feb. 21.

The deal required that the project would go forward unless Obama declared by that date that it was not in the national interest. The president did just that Wednesday, generating intense reaction from all sides.

"This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people," Obama said in a written statement. "I'm disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision."

Newt Gingrich, campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in South Carolina, called Obama's decision "stunningly stupid," adding, "What Obama has done is kill jobs, weaken American security and drive Canada into the arms of China out of just sheer stupidity."

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney said the decision was "as shocking as it is revealing. It shows a president who once again has put politics ahead of sound policy."

Project supporters say U.S. rejection of the pipeline would not stop one from being built. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada is serious about building a pipeline to its West Coast, where oil could be shipped to China and other Asian markets.

TransCanada said it would submit a new application once an alternative route for the pipeline is established. Company chief Russ Girling said if approved, the pipeline could begin operation as soon as 2014. He said TransCanada will continue to work with Nebraska officials to determine the safest route for Keystone XL that avoids the environmentally sensitive Sandhills area, which he said should be completed this fall.

But Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones told reporters that if TransCanada submits a new application for a different pipeline path, it would trigger a new review process.

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