Republicans say Obama is running out of excuses to delay Keystone pipeline

Republicans on Friday ramped up pressure on President Obama to quickly approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline after developer TransCanada Corp. formally reapplied for a key federal permit.

“Today there is just one person standing in the way of tens of thousands of new American jobs: President Obama,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

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“After nearly four years of review, delay and politics, he is out of excuses for blocking this job-creating energy project any longer.”

Republicans know their efforts are unlikely to persuade the president to immediately approve the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Instead, the GOP hopes to score political points going into the election by painting Obama as an obstructionist on energy who is standing in the way of oil-and-gas development at a time when voters are worried about high gasoline prices.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday that the president has run out of excuses to delay approval of the pipeline.

“With millions of Americans out of work in the Obama economy and a growing need for a stable supply of energy, the president turned his back on the Keystone XL pipeline that would have helped with both,” McConnell said in a statement.

“The Obama administration cited a need for a new application from TransCanada and a new route in Nebraska. Now that he has both, what will his excuse be?”

TransCanada’s new application comes just days before House and Senate negotiators are slated to duke it out over transportation legislation that includes a GOP-backed provision to immediately approve the pipeline.

Republicans called on lawmakers to preserve the provision in the final version of the transportation bill, stressing that they have little confidence in Obama to approve the pipeline.

“[G]iven the president’s track record, I am not confident the administration will get the job done without congressional action,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in a statement.

“The president’s record on Keystone suggests he will let the decision slip past Election Day.”

The first formal session of House-Senate talks on the transportation bill is set for Tuesday afternoon. The House version of the bill approves the pipeline, while the Senate’s plan omits the provision.

But advocates face a tough climb getting Keystone in a final transportation bill. Democrats outnumber Republicans 8-6 among the Senate negotiators.

Among those Democrats, only Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.) has voted in favor of including Keystone in the bill, and Baucus has signaled through aides that he’s unlikely to insist on the provision.

TransCanada filed a permit Friday with the State Department, which is charged with reviewing the permit because the project crosses an international border, to carry oil sands crude to Steele City, Neb.

The company said it will provide the State Department with an alternate route through Nebraska once it is approved by state officials.

Nebraska officials had previously raised concerns that the original pipeline route would threaten the state’s Sandhills, an environmentally sensitive region, and the Ogallala Aquifer.

TransCanada submitted an alternate route to state officials earlier this year that avoids the Sandhills, but still crosses part of the aquifer.

The company’s decision to reapply for the permit was met with immediate opposition from environmental groups and others, which have long raised concerns about the project. They have warned of increased greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands production and oil spills along the pipeline route, among other things.

“I feel like we're stuck in some terrible movie about zombie pipelines that just won't die,” Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign Director Kate Colarulli told reporters on a conference call.

The State Department has estimated it will make a final decision on the project after a thorough review, likely in the first quarter of 2013, well after the upcoming election.

In January, President Obama rejected the same permit application TransCanada refiled on Friday. Republicans have spent months blasting Obama for the decision.

But the president has insisted that the decision was based not on the merits of the pipeline, but on a GOP-backed deadline to weigh in on the project included in legislation to extend the payroll tax cut.

Obama welcomed TransCanada to reapply for the permit. But he has said his administration will re-evaluate the permit based on a full review of the project.