Obama pledges approval of Keystone pipeline’s southern leg

Posted March 22, 2012, at 8:01 p.m.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — President Barack Obama traveled to one of the nation’s oil transportation hubs, offering what administration officials hope voters will see as a centrist alternative to the polarized debate over the Keystone XL pipeline — and quickly drew fire from activists on both sides.

Earlier this year, Obama deferred the building of a pipeline from Canada’s tar sands region to the Gulf Coast through environmentally sensitive parts of the Midwest. On Thursday he said his administration would expedite construction of the southern part of the route, starting in Cushing, Okla.

Obama has tried to strike a middle position on energy issues between Republican advocates of stepped up drilling and environmentalists who push for a fast switch from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy. His administration’s policy is “all of the above,” Obama often says, backing oil production, alternative energy and increased efficiency.

That stance has opened him to attack from both sides, as was quickly apparent with the announcement that the administration would treat the route from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas, as a “national priority.”

“Today I’ve come to Cushing, an oil town, because producing more oil and gas here at home has been and will continue to be a critical part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” Obama said, speaking to a crowd of pipe workers and local residents that also included officials of TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline.

A new pipeline running south from Cushing is needed because “there’s a bottleneck right here because we can’t get enough of the oil to our refineries fast enough,” he said, taking credit for an upturn in domestic oil production which has the industry pumping more than at any time in the last eight years.

But neither environmentalists nor Republican backers of more oil drilling want to give up the issue of the full Keystone pipeline, which has become a potent symbol for both sides. Both also say they fear what Obama might do if re-elected. Republicans predict he would kill the pipeline outright, while some environmentalists fear he will approve the Canadian route once election pressures are gone.

Republicans repeated their charge that Obama’s energy record has driven up gas prices and cost Americans jobs.

“The president now says he supports the Republican ‘all of the above’ energy strategy for our country,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, “but for three years his administration has made every effort to block, delay and restrict new energy production in our country.”

Industry experts have said the rise in gasoline prices is largely due to the jump in crude oil prices, which are set on a global market in which U.S. production plays only a minor role. But Boehner and other Republican leaders say Obama deserves blame for not pushing domestic production hard enough.

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