Oil industry pressures Obama on Keystone in South Carolina

The oil industry jumped head-first into the presidential campaign on Monday, calling on South Carolina voters to make drilling a top election issue and ramping up pressure on President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Jack Gerard — the president of the American Petroleum Institute — said the powerful oil industry trade group will be traveling around the country in the coming months as part of its “Vote 4 Energy” campaign, which includes radio, television and print advertising in swing states including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Gerard is slated to speak in New York on Jan. 27.

“If we build the Keystone XL pipeline, if we utilize our domestic oil resources and if we keep advancing biofuel development, children born in South Carolina today could be driving cars fueled entirely by North American energy when they’re old enough to get their driver's license,” he said.

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“Turning those 'ifs' into 'whens' is the challenge, but it's one that I believe we can meet, if we work together.”

Gerard took aim at Obama’s energy policies, criticizing the administration for not opening up new areas to drilling along the Atlantic coast.

“[U]nfortunately, it’s the people of South Carolina who miss out on the jobs and economic growth that go with production,” he said.

Gerard asked South Carolina voters to press Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

“[I]t’s never a bad idea to listen to the American people, or for that matter, the people of South Carolina,” he said, adding that the project could create jobs in the state.

Under a GOP-backed provision in a law to extend the payroll tax cut, Obama has until Feb. 21 to make a final decision on the pipeline.

“The president must make his call in the next few weeks, so I hope everyone here will make a call to the White House to encourage the president to approve the pipeline,” he said.

The oil industry has launched an aggressive campaign backing the pipeline. Gerard, in a speech earlier this month, said Obama will face “huge political consequences” if he rejects the project.

But White House and administration officials have said they will not have enough time to adequately review the project under the 60-day timeline mandated under the payroll tax package.

Republicans in Congress are already mulling legislation to circumvent the White House and authorize Congress to make the final decision on the project.