Poll: Voters back Keystone pipeline but give Obama edge on energy security

A new poll shows that 62 percent of registered voters favor approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a project Mitt Romney has pledged to greenlight on “day one” if elected but the Obama administration has said needs more review.

The finding suggests that President Obama may be vulnerable to election-season attacks from Republicans and conservative groups, who have bashed him for failing to grant a permit for TransCanada Corp’s pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

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But the same Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Obama edging Romney when asked whether the presumptive GOP White House nominee would have made more or less progress on moving the nation toward energy independence if he had been in office since 2009.

On Keystone, 62 percent of registered voters say the federal government should approve the pipeline, while just 18 percent say it should not be authorized. Among independents, 57 percent support approval, compared to 82 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of Democrats.

Environmental groups bitterly oppose Keystone because of greenhouse gases released by the extraction process, forest damage and other effects of Alberta’s massive oil sands projects, and fears about spills along the pipeline route.

Advocates of Keystone say it will create thousands of jobs and boost energy ties with Canada, which is already the largest supplier of oil to the United States. Advocates also call concerns about spills overblown.

According to the Washington Post/ABC News poll, 34 percent of registered voters say the pipeline would damage the environment while 52 percent say it would not.

Among independents, 38 percent say it would damage the environment, while 19 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats believe it would be harmful.

In the same poll, 82 percent of registered voters say the pipeline would create a significant number of jobs; that belief is held widely across party identifications.

Obama, facing divides among his political base (many labor unions favor the Keystone project), has extended the projects federal review process, which is now slated to last into 2013. Romney, in television ads, has vowed to authorize Keystone on “day one” if elected.

Romney more broadly has made attacks on White House energy policies a staple of his stump appearances, arguing Obama is leaving too many federal lands and waters off-limits to drilling and imposing too many environmental rules.

The White House has parried the attacks by touting its support for drilling and noting that U.S. oil and natural gas production has been on the upswing for years.

The new poll asks whether the country would have made more or less progress if Romney had been president since 2009.

Twenty-two percent of voters say there would have been more progress, 28 percent say less, while 41 percent responded that things would be about the same.

U.S. reliance on petroleum imports (which includes crude oil, gasoline, jet fuel and other products) and crude oil specifically have been falling for several years, reflecting a range of factors such as increased auto efficiency, expanded domestic oil production, growth in biofuels and other reasons.

Last year, total petroleum imports were 45 percent, the lowest level since 1995, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

On Keystone, Capitol Hill Republicans have been pushing legislation that would require a federal cross-border permit for the project.

However, the provision was left on the cutting room floor when lawmakers struck a deal to advance a sweeping transportation bill last week.

Republicans may seek more votes on Keystone this year, though a measure to mandate approval narrowly failed in the Senate earlier this year and was subsequently left out of the transportation bill when House-Senate negotiations wrapped up last week.
 
“There may be some other opportunity that comes up where we might be able to get a vote on it, but probably it ends up being an issue that gets litigated on the campaign trail this fall,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, in a short interview Friday.

“The window ... actually get something done with it was probably here,” he said, referring to the transportation bill negotiations. “But you never know. There is always another legislative vehicle coming around, and so we will see what the options are if we can try and put it to them again, put everybody on the record on it.”