June 15, 2011 / 3:40 PM / 8 years ago

US panel OKs bill to speed up Keystone XL decision

* Bill would set Nov. 1 deadline for decision on pipeline

* EPA has asked State for more extensive review of project

* Republicans say Obama admin stonewalling project

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON, June 15 (Reuters) - A Congressional panel approved legislation on Wednesday aimed at speeding permitting for a proposed $7 billion pipeline project that would transport Canadian oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf coast.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee greenlighted a bill that would force the Obama administration to make a decision on TransCanada’s (TRP.TO) planned Keystone XL pipeline by November 1.

Lawmakers on the Republican-controlled panel accused the Obama administration of needlessly stonewalling this project, which they say would increase U.S. energy security.

“With high gas prices, high unemployment, and clear threats to national security, a project such as Keystone XL should be a top priority for any administration,” Energy and Commerce chairman Fred Upton said.

The bill still has a long way before it actually becomes law and will likely face an uphill battle with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House.

The project, which requires approval from the State Department because it crosses the Canada-U.S. border, has run into stiff opposition from green groups concerned about the environmental impacts of the pipeline and the carbon-intensive nature of oil sands production.

After the Environmental Protection Agency criticized the department’s initial favorable environmental analysis of the project, the department issued a supplemental review, delaying the pipeline project. [ID:nN15298301]

Earlier this month, the EPA also raised objections to that review, asking for more analysis from the State Department that could further delay the pipeline. [ID:nN07101222]

Democrats on the House panel said the “arbitrary” deadline set by the bill would limit public input and may curtail the involvement of other government agencies in evaluating the project.

They also pointed out that the State Department has already pledged to make a decision on the project before the end of the year.

The panel rejected an amendment from Congressman Bobby Rush, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, that would have set a deadline for a decision on the project in January 2012. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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