US approves portion of Keystone pipeline

TransCanada Corp., the developer of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, aid Friday it has won the final major permit needed for the southern portion of the project that will bring U.S. oil from Oklahoma to Texas refiners.

The roughly 500-mile portion, now dubbed the Gulf Coast Project, has the backing of the White House, which has touted the segment in its efforts to deflect GOP attacks over President Obama's energy policies.

But the larger portion of Keystone, which would transport Canadian oil sands from Alberta, remains the center of a political battle as the Obama administration's review of a cross-border permit continues.

TransCanada said Friday it has received a permit from the Forth Worth, Texas, district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last of the “key” permits needed for the $2.3 billion Gulf Coast Project, the company said.

The company hopes to begin construction in coming weeks for the pipeline that segment that starts in Cushing, Okla., and wants to have the pipeline running by mid-to-late 2013.

“The Gulf Coast Project will contribute millions in property taxes to counties in Oklahoma and Texas, money that can be used to build roads, schools and hospitals," said CEO Russ Girling in a statement.

The company is pressing for federal cross-border permit that would enable the larger, roughly 1,200 portion from Alberta to Nebraska, part of the larger effort to bring oil sands to Gulf Coast markets.

Republicans, industry groups and a number of unions are pressing hard for the Keystone project, which faces bitter opposition from environmentalists and some Democrats due to greenhouse gas emissions and forest damage from oil sands and other concerns.

Girling on Friday sought to use the permits for the southern portion to make the case for the overall Alberta-to-Texas project.

“I continue to believe Americans would prefer to consume their crude oil from domestic producers and from Canada rather than higher-priced oil from countries that do not share American values,” he said.

The Obama administration plans to make a decision about TransCanada’s application for a cross-border permit in 2013, while Republicans are pushing legislation that would immediately approve the project.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP White House nominee, says he would approve Keystone XL on “day one” if elected.