Republicans plot next step on Keystone oil pipeline

Fri Jan 20, 2012 2:47pm EST
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By Richard Cowan

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Republicans in Congress are considering using upcoming payroll tax cut or highway construction bills in order to force quick approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline but have not yet settled on a strategy, lawmakers said on Friday.

Having failed so far to get President Barack Obama to approve TransCanada Corp's application for the $7 billion Canada-to-Texas pipeline, Republicans who control the House of Representatives are discussing Keystone during a three-day retreat in Baltimore that focuses on the 2012 legislative agenda and their prospects in the November elections.

Renewed efforts to force a decision on Keystone, which is strongly opposed by environmentalists, could result in another showdown with the White House if the pipeline is inserted in the payroll tax bill once again.

Republican leaders have been signaling they want to get the tax issue off the agenda quickly this time, following a public relations disaster last month when they were viewed as standing in the way a temporary tax cut extension that ultimately was enacted.

Earlier this week, Obama rebuffed Republicans when the White House announced that a 60-day fast-track approval imposed by Congress was inadequate for weighing the environmental impact of the proposed pipeline route. As a result, the administration turned down the application but said new requests to build the project would be considered.

Republicans see Keystone as a pivotal campaign issue to use against Democrats in November's presidential and congressional elections, arguing that the pipeline will create thousands of much-needed jobs while helping secure the country's energy future.

"We are committed to keeping it on the front-burner," said Representative Fred Upton, who chairs a House committee that oversees U.S. energy policy.

Upton also holds another important position as a negotiator on payroll tax cut legislation that is expected to move through Congress in coming weeks. In December, Republicans successfully attached the 60-day Keystone approval clock to a two-month extension of Obama's payroll tax cut.   Continued...