A group of Senate Democrats on Thursday sent a letter to President Obama demanding he act soon on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a clear signal that many within the president’s own party think support for the controversial Canada-to-Texas project is a political winner for them.
In their letter, the 11 Democrats said the White House must establish a “definitive timeline” and decide within six weeks whether to approve or deny Keystone, which would transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil each day from Alberta, Canada, through the U.S. heartland and ultimately to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The federal government’s review of the project has lasted more than five years — the entirety of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
“This process has been exhaustive in its time, breadth and scope. It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify,” wrote the group of Democratic senators, which includes Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
The pipeline enjoys strong support among a majority of the American people. A March 19 poll by the Pew Research Center, for example, found that 61 percent of Americans support building Keystone, while just 27 percent oppose. Forty-nine percent of Democrats said it should be built, while 38 percent said it should be denied, the poll shows.
Other polls repeatedly have found that a strong majority of Americans support Keystone.
A Senate Democratic aide suggested Thursday that GOP members weren’t invited to sign on to the letter, saying, “We know where Republicans are on Keystone,” a sign Democrats specifically wanted to put pressure on the president from within his own party.
But the White House stuck to its position, not appearing to be swayed by the new call for action.
“Our position on that process hasn’t changed, which is that it needs to run its appropriate course without interference from the White House or Congress,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “When there’s a decision to be announced, it will be announced.”
Keystone is now under review at the State Department and is awaiting a “national interest determination” from Secretary of State John F. Kerry. The department’s environmental review of the pipeline already has found that it will not have any real impact on carbon emissions, a factor cited by the president and Mr. Kerry as central to their decision.
In light of that review — and because Keystone is projected to create more than 40,000 jobs while increasing U.S. energy security — congressional Republicans, the Canadian government, business and labor groups and now a growing number of Democrats continue to press Mr. Obama on the project. It is vehemently opposed by many leading environmental groups.
“We cannot miss another construction season, given the long, cold winter this year along the Keystone XL route and the time required for ground thaw. We could be looking at a very short season. We need a definitive timeline laid out,” the letter continues. “The time to act is now, Mr. President. Please use your executive authority to expedite this process to a swift conclusion and a final decision so that we can all move forward on other energy infrastructure needs in this country. We ask that you bring this entire process to an end no later than May 31, 2014.”
The pipeline must be approved by the president because it crosses an international boundary.
Keystone’s future also has been blurred by a recent court decision in Nebraska, where a judge threw out the previously approved route through the Cornhusker State.
State officials are now reviewing the project again, and it’s unclear whether the president is willing to make a decision before that process runs its course.
Technically, there is nothing stopping the president from approving or denying Keystone even as the legal situation plays out in Nebraska, state officials have said.
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