House GOP seeks to tie Keystone to highway bill

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 3, 2012 6:41pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican lawmakers hope to move one step closer next week to linking a measure approving the controversial Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline to a highway funding bill.

The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee will vote on Tuesday on a bill that would transfer permitting authority over TransCanada's planned pipeline to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and direct the commission to approve the project within 30 days.

"It's time for Congress to take this decision out of the president's hands and take the politics out of a commonsense pipeline that will bring economic and energy security," Fred Upton, chairman of the energy committee, said in a statement.

House lawmakers plan to wrap the Keystone bill into a package that includes funding for highways and infrastructure, a move certain to face stiff opposition from Democrats in the Senate and the White House.

The 1,700-mile (2,720-km) Keystone pipeline has become a rallying point for Republicans this election year as they blast the Obama administration for delaying the project that they say will create jobs and boost U.S. energy security.

Republicans attached a measure setting a deadline for a decision on the pipeline to last year's payroll tax cut bill, but President Barack Obama last month rejected the pipeline permit in response, forcing TransCanada to resubmit its application.

The Obama administration said it needs more time to consider alternative routes for the project after concerns were raised the pipeline could harm a sensitive aquifer in Nebraska.

Environmentalists have staunchly opposed the project, saying that carbon-spewing oil sands production in Canada will exacerbate climate change.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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