* Set politics aside, say nine senators from each party
* Environmental protests slated for White House on Sunday
* Senators want quick approval in the new year
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Nov 16 A bipartisan group of
senators on Friday urged President Barack Obama to quickly issue
a permit for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, a
project environmental groups have vowed to keep fighting.
The senators - nine Democrats and nine Republicans - asked
Obama to approve the pipeline because it will create jobs and
reduce the need for oil from the Middle East. They were led by
Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and powerful chair of the Senate
Finance Committee, and John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican.
Both senators represent the booming Bakken oil region.
The pipeline is designed to carry oil from Canada and the
Bakken formation and last year, Obama put it on hold citing
environmental concerns with a portion of the route in Nebraska.
The TransCanada Corp project needs a presidential
permit because it would cross an international border.
Nebraska's state government could wrap up its work examining
a new route by the end of the year. The State Department is
working on a review that the senators hope will affirm the
project is in the national interest.
The senators urged Obama to issue a permit for the project
"Setting politics aside: nothing has changed about the
thousands of jobs that Keystone XL will create," the senators
said in a letter to be sent on Friday.
"Nothing has changed about the security to be gained from
using more fuel produced at home and by a close and stable ally.
And nothing has changed about the need for America to remain a
place where businesses can still build things," they said.
The pipeline was designed to extend 1,661 miles (2,673 km)
to the Port Arthur, Texas, area from Hardisty, Alberta, moving
830,000 barrels of oil per day.
The southern leg of the line - from Cushing, Oklahoma to
Texas refineries - did not need a special permit and work has
already begun on that part.
SUNDAY: WHITE HOUSE PROTEST
The senators' letter comes just ahead of a large protest
against the pipeline planned for the White House on Sunday by
Last year, similar protests drew thousands of people, and
some 1,200 opponents were arrested. The protests were credited
with slowing the State Department's review of what once was
thought to be a routine regulatory approval.
"Keystone XL is still a crazy idea, a giant straw into the
second biggest pool of carbon," said a coalition including
350.org, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace US, and Friends of the
Earth, urging its members to attend.
"No one needs to get arrested this time - though that may
come as the winter wears on. For now we simply need to let the
president know we haven't forgotten, and that our conviction
hasn't cooled," the groups said.
The timing and design of the senators' letter is aimed at
reminding Obama of public support for the project, Hoeven said
in an interview.
"We're concerned that the last time opponents demonstrated
around the White House, at a time when it looked like State was
ready to approve the project, the administration deferred it,"
LONG POLITICAL BATTLE
Congress has repeatedly pushed Obama to approve the project.
Last December, Republicans inserted language in a payroll tax
cut bill giving Obama a 60-day deadline to make a decision.
In January, he ruled the administration needed more time to
evaluate a change in the route through Nebraska, aimed at
avoiding a sensitive environmental region.
Republicans accused him of playing to the environmental
movement ahead of the election. In Congress, proponents pushed
to override Obama's call and approve the pipeline themselves,
but a vote in the Senate fell four votes short of passage.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised the
issue as gasoline prices surged, pledging he would approve the
pipeline on his first day in office.
Obama has said he supports the jobs created by the U.S. boom
in oil production, and backed the southern leg of the project
earlier this year. But he has also pledged to address climate
change, which environmental groups argue would be accelerated by
more development of Canada's oil sands.
Both green groups and the oil industry see Obama's pipeline
decision as a test of his political priorities.
"I really feel if he doesn't approve it, that would just
create more momentum in the Congress for us to approve it
ourselves," said Hoeven, who championed last year's close vote
in the Senate to fast-track the pipeline.
MORE PUBLIC COMMENT
Analysts have said they think Obama eventually will approve
the pipeline but the timing of the decision is in question.
"Approval will not be quick," Moody's credit rating agency
said in an outlook for investors earlier this week.
Republican Representative Lee Terry also wrote Obama on
Friday, saying he is worried additional delays by the State
Department could lead Canada to look for other oil buyers.
"Will the United States be a partner and recipient or will
the vast majority of the resource be sold to China or some other
country," said Terry, a Nebraskan who led efforts in the House
of Representatives to fast-track the pipeline.
Nebraska's Department of Environmental Quality is wrapping
up its review with a public meeting on Dec. 4. Governor Dave
Heineman must then approve the project, something oil industry
groups said expect by early January.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department, which oversees the
administration's review, is preparing a supplemental
environmental impact statement (SEIS).
"When the SEIS is completed in draft form, we will release
it for public comment consistent with NEPA," the National
Environmental Policy Act, said a State Department official, who
did not say how long the comment period would be.
The report will help the State Department determine whether
the project is in the national interest, a decision it makes in
consultation with other administration officials, considering
issues such as climate change concerns and jobs.
The State Department has said it does not anticipate
concluding its work before the first quarter of 2013.