- Associated Press - Thursday, March 22, 2012

CUSHING, Okla. (AP) — President Obama on Thursday firmly defended his record on oil drilling, ordering the government to fast-track an Oklahoma pipeline while rebuking Congress for playing politics with a larger Canada-to-Gulf Coast pipeline project.

Deep in Republican oil country, Mr. Obama said lawmakers refused to give his administration enough time review the controversial Keystone pipeline in order to ensure that it wouldn’t compromise the health and safety of people living in surrounding areas.

“Unfortunately, Congress decided they wanted their own timeline,” Mr. Obama said. “Not the company, not the experts, but members of Congress who decided this might be a fun political issue decided to try to intervene and make it impossible for us to make an informed decision.”

Facing fresh criticism from Republicans who blame him for gas prices near $4 a gallon, Mr. Obama announced Thursday that he was directing federal agencies to expedite a 485-mile line from Oklahoma to refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast that would remove a critical bottleneck in the country’s oil transportation system. The directive would also apply to other pipelines that alleviate choke points.

“Anyone who says that we’re somehow suppressing domestic oil production isn’t paying attention,” Mr. Obama said, speaking at the site of the new Oklahoma project.

Republicans said the moves were little more than a publicity stunt, arguing that it wouldn’t help Canadian company TransCanada build the pipeline any sooner. Construction is expected to begin in June, with completion next year. Some environmental groups, meanwhile, accused the president of caving to oil interests and warned it could lead to more oil spills.

Mr. Obama’s two-day trip highlighting his energy agenda in Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma and later in battleground Ohio reflected the degree to which high gas prices have begun hitting consumers in their pocketbooks.



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