EPA chief: Climate change, not Keystone, is game changer

Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy on Tuesday sought to downplay the importance of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and said the Obama administration will continue to focus on the bigger problem of climate change.

McCarthy tried to turn the attention toward climate change during an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," less than one week after the State Department stopped the clock with 14 days left in the 90-day interagency review of the $5.4 billion project.

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The move sent Capitol Hill into a frenzy as advocates of the pipeline assailed the administration for punting on a decision they say will create jobs. But while her "Morning Joe" interview was promoted as a chance to talk about Keystone, McCarthy said Tuesday that the administration is focused on the "big prize" of climate change.

"I think it's important to recognize that Keystone is a project, but we have a lot more going on and one of the biggest challenges we are facing is climate change," McCarthy said. "We can't lose sight of that."

"We have an entire administration strategy that the president laid out that is looking at issues of energy and climate and environment. We want to keep our eyes on the big prize right now, and that big prize is climate change."

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele pressed McCarthy on the delay during the interview. He called it a political move on a project that he said epitomizes the "whole idea of energy independence."

McCarthy didn't bite, instead saying there are more important things going on in the energy world.

"I know it's a project that has a lot of concern, people are interested in it, but it is not the biggest thing that's changing the energy world in the U.S.," she said, adding that inexpensive natural gas is making the country more secure.

Show co-host Mika Brzezinski tried in vain to get McCarthy to take a side on the pipeline. "Your gut instinct, you think the Keystone pipeline should be approved?" Brzezinski asked.

"I don't have a gut instinct on this one," McCarthy said.