The Washington Times - November 30, 2011, 02:17PM

Senate Republicans introduced legislation Wednesday designed to speed up construction of a proposed transcontinental oil pipeline despite objections from environmentalists.

The bill would force the Obama administration to issue a construction permit within 60 days for the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Alberta’s tar sands to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

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Republicans say the project by developer TransCanada would create 20,000 jobs and decrease U.S. dependence on Middle East oil.

“Our foreign oil vulnerability endangers our national security and puts our war-fighters and civilian personnel at risk,” said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, who is the lead sponsor of the bill. “Building the TransCanada Keystone pipeline now is a dramatic opportunity to change that energy and national security equation.”

TransCanada volunteered this month to divert the pipeline’s proposed route to avoid the Nebraska Sandhills. The offer came after the State Department, which is reviewing the project, said it won’t make a decision until at least 2013.

Republicans have accused President Obama of delaying a decision on the project until after next year’s elections for fear offending either environmentalists who oppose the project or labor unions and other allies who support it.

The pipeline route would cross eight states — the main line going through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, with a branch heading off into Missouri and Illinois — and has stoked fears about a contamination threat to the Ogallala aquifer, a key water source for eight states.

The legislation is little more than a symbolic gesture, as it has little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. Even if it cleared Congress, Mr. Obama would be expected to veto the bill.