By LAURA LITVAN
Four politically vulnerable Senate Democrats are urging US
President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,
spotlighting the implications of an election-year decision
that may influence which party controls the chamber.
At a rally in Washington, Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana
and Mark Pryor of Arkansas joined Republicans, the Canadian
ambassador to the US, oil-industry lobbyists and labor
leaders to call on the administration to authorize the $5.4
billion Canada-US oil pipeline.
Two other Senate Democrats who face tough November
re-elections -- Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay Hagan of North
Carolina -- werent at the rally but also have voiced
strong support for the project.
The president is in a bit of a squeeze on this,
said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg
. Rejecting Keystone will give
Republicans running against the four Democrats a green
light to attack over a project
thats popular with
voters and industries back home, he said.
TransCanada wants to build the pipeline to carry oil-sands
crude from Alberta to refineries in Texas and Louisiana. The
US State Department last week released an environmental
assessment that said Keystone isnt as significant a
threat to climate change as its opponents contend.
Landrieu and Pryor touted their leadership in pressing for
the pipelines approval before television cameras that
could beam their words back home to Republican-leaning states
where Keystone is popular.
This pipeline is essential, the time to study is over,
the time for action is now, Landrieu said.
The State Department report released Jan. 31 boosts the
possibility that Keystone wins US approval, perhaps as soon
as July, according to analysts including Kevin Book, managing
director at ClearView Energy Partners. The studys chief
conclusion: That Albertas oil sands will be mined and
refined regardless of the project, contrary to
opponents claims that blocking it would keep the
carbon-heavy crude in the ground.
TransCanada applied more than five years ago for a permit to
build the pipeline across six US states in the heartland. The
875-mile segment reviewed by the State Department would run
from the US-Canada border to Steele City, Nebraska, before
connecting to an existing pipeline network.
Obama faces several political challenges in his decision. It
forces him to choose between union supporters who back the project
and environmentalists who
oppose it, groups that may be key for Democrats in the
November elections. Republicans need to pick up six seats to
wrest control of the Senate.
The four Democratic pipeline supporters hold positions at
odds with most other senators in their party. Theyre
key to helping Senate Majority Leader Harry Reids
strategy of keeping control of the Senate, said Rothenberg.
He says Pryors seat is tilting toward his Republican
opponent, while Landrieu, Hagan and Begich are in races
They are the ground zero in the fight for control of
the US Senate, he said.
Whats more, he said, a rejection of the pipeline could
be used against Democratic contenders in states with open
Senate seats -- Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Three of the four incumbents count on the oil and gas
industry as a top source of campaign donations.
Landrieu, whose state is home to refineries that want to
process the Canadian crude, got the most with $456,300 in
donations by mid-December from industry political action
committees and individual donors tied to oil and gas
companies. Begich raised $279,700 from the industry, while
Pryor raised $166,700.
Landrieu and Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota
said they are weighing legislation that would set a timeline
for the president to make his decision.
She told reporters she has been speaking to Obama about the
project for months.
Ive explained it to the president before, and
Ill explain it again, she said.
Pryor said his support and that of other Democrats should
weigh on the president as he considers the project.
Theres a pretty decent number of Democrats in the
Senate who are for this and want to see this get
resolved, he said.
Their efforts matched the calls of Republican leaders in both
chambers, who yesterday renewed their push for Obama to back
The State Department once again confirmed that there is
no reason, scientific or otherwise, for delaying the Keystone
pipeline one more day, House Speaker John Boehner told
reporters. Mr. President, its time to act.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said pipeline approval
is one of the best job-creating moves Obama can make this
I dont know how many other studies we can
possibly have, all of them coming back indicating negligible
impact on the environment -- shovel-ready project,
private-sector project, ready to go, the Kentucky
Republican told reporters.
The State Departments review estimated the project
would directly create
about 3,900 construction
jobs for two years.
Once in operation, the pipeline would need about 50 people in
the US, including 35 permanent employees, according to the