* Concern that a decision could affect campaign support
* Political pitfalls on both sides of Keystone decision
* State Department leading review process
By Jeff Mason and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, Nov 3 Reeling from months of
protests, President Barack Obama's advisers are worried that
administration approval for a planned oil pipeline from Canada
could cost him political support from Democrats in 2012.
Senior officials at the White House and Obama's Chicago
campaign headquarters have fielded complaints from supporters
who are unhappy about TransCanada Corp's plan to build a
massive pipeline to transport crude from Alberta to Texas,
sources familiar with the situation said.
The concerns could contribute to a delay in the approval
process for the Keystone XL pipeline just as the 2012
presidential campaign heats up.
The State Department, which is overseeing the process, said
this week a delay from its end-of-year target was possible.
Obama's re-election plans depend partially on his ability
to energize his base of supporters, many of whom are
disillusioned with his progress in fighting climate change and
attaining other environmental goals.
The pipeline has galvanized that discontent, leading to
protests in Washington and across the country. More than 6,000
opponents have signed up to form a human ring around the White
House on Sunday in what they hope will be a dramatic signal to
keep the pressure on Obama, according to environmental groups.
Obama advisers fear that a decision in favor of the project
could dampen enthusiasm among volunteers needed for
door-to-door campaigning in battleground states that are
critical to Obama's re-election.
"The potential that it's actually going to deflate their
bodies on the ground in key states... is kind of a new
concern," said one environmental advocate close to the
Some administration policy advisers expect the pipeline
will be approved because of the energy security and jobs it
would create, according to one source who met with two White
House staffers about the subject recently.
"Everything I heard suggests there's no change in the
sentiment that this will go forward," the source said.
Another source, who said he discussed the issue with senior
officials from Obama's 2012 campaign operation, said a delay in
the decision seemed increasingly likely.
Obama has indicated he will make the final call. In a
television interview on Tuesday, he outlined the economic and
health criteria he would consider when the State Department's
recommendations come his way.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, who has emphasized
State's lead role, played down Obama's comments on Wednesday,
but said the final decision would represent his views.
Taking responsibility for the decision will land Obama with
political consequences, regardless of which way it goes.
Saying yes would hurt him with environmentalists and the
young voters who helped propel him to power in 2008.
Saying no would mean turning down a chance to substantially
increase oil imports from a friendly neighbor and halt a
project proponents say would create thousands of jobs.
Obama's re-election hopes depend on his ability to bring
down high unemployment and jump-start the U.S. economy.
"Politically it's his base versus the much broader
constituency that's more focused on jobs and the economy, and
that pretty much puts him on the horns of a dilemma," said
Craig Pirrong, a professor and a director for the Global
Energy Management Institute at the University of Houston.
Donors have complained about the issue to the campaign, and
officials there passed on the feedback to the White House, one
source said, adding that Obama's chief of staff Bill Daley had
also fielded complaints.
As concerns mount, the administration is doing its best to
highlight its green accomplishments, particularly its success
in raising fuel economy standards for automobiles.
But environmentalists are worried about the carbon-spewing
process of extracting oil from tar sands, the process used in
Alberta, and charge that a decision in favor of the project
would violate Obama's commitment to fighting climate change.
Carol Browner, who was Obama's top climate change adviser
and a chief architect of his energy policy until earlier this
year, has come out against the project.
"Until we do have a climate policy, the idea that we should
be supportive of a pipeline that will increase greenhouse gas
emissions is deeply troubling," Browner told an energy forum on
Ben LaBolt, Obama's campaign spokesman, said Obama's record
spoke for itself.
"The president has done more to wean us off of foreign oil
and transition the nation to a clean energy economy than any
other," he said. "When Americans compare the president's record
promoting clean energy and America's energy security to those
of the leading Republican candidates, who don't even believe
that climate change is an issue that we need to address and
would cede the clean energy market to China, there will be no
question about who will continue our progress."
Mark Lewis, a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP in
Washington and a specialist in pipeline law, said the tar sands
would be developed in any case, whether the oil comes to the
United States or not.
"Politically if the pipeline project is approved Obama will
take heat from the environmentalists but not approving it won't
stop the oil from getting produced so it seems like a somewhat
hollow victory, even for the environmentalists," he said.
"I'm not sure a delay helps (Obama) at all because
ultimately he has to make a decision. I don't think you can
delay this until after the election, but by that point a delay
kills the project because the markets will look for an
(Additional reporting by Christopher Doering and Ayesha
Rascoe; Editing by Doina Chiacu)