Pro-pipeline group presses EPA for Keystone XL documents

“One troubling aspect of the President’s decision is that it appears to have been influenced by political factors and not whether the pipeline is in the national interest,” the nonprofit group’s request states, pointing to major anti-pipeline demonstrations that environmental groups staged last year.

The administration last November sought to delay a decision on a cross-border permit until after the 2012 elections, but in January rejected the permit outright under a deadline that Republicans had demanded in payroll tax cut legislation.

“Given the intense political pressure put on the State Department, White House, and Environmental Protection Agency to deny the Keystone XL permit, we seek documents responsive to this request to make sure that President Obama’s decision was not premised on politics, but on science and sound economics,” the document request states.

The White House says the decisions was not on the merits of the project but instead blamed an “arbitrary” deadline that officials said would have short-circuited proper review, including a study of routes to avoid ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska. 

The administration has also invited Keystone developer TransCanada Corp. to reapply for a cross-border permit, which the company intends to do.

The pipeline to bring oil sands crude to Gulf Coast refineries is central to wider election-year battles over White House energy policy.

Republicans, industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, and some unions have savaged Obama’s failure to greenlight the pipeline, calling it a missed chance to boost energy security and create jobs. They say the years-long federal review has already been robust.

The document request calls the permit rejection "curious given the President’s purported belief in building infrastructure projects to spur economic growth and his desire to create jobs."

But environmental groups — a crucial part of Obama’s political base — and liberal Democrats oppose the project over greenhouse gas emissions from extracting and burning Alberta’s oil sands, damage to Alberta's forests and waters from the massive projects, and fears of spills along the pipeline route.

The Institute for Energy Research is a nonprofit group that backs expansion of U.S. areas made available for drilling and accuses the Obama administration of restricting development various forms of energy development.

It is not the first to use the Freedom of Information Act in the battle over Keystone.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth has sought and received a number of State Department documents, including emails that revealed friendly exchanges between a department official and a top TransCanada lobbyist.