Keystone breakthrough may muffle Republican attack on Obama

Mon Feb 27, 2012 9:18pm EST
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By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Canadian company's decision on Monday to proceed with part of a U.S. pipeline might end up muffling one of the Republicans' loudest arguments in this election year: that President Barack Obama has pursued failed energy policies.

TransCanada Corp announced it intended to begin work on the southern leg of the $7 billion Keystone XL project, from Oklahoma to Texas, leaving for later another run at the more controversial, and complicated, northern segment.

For months, Republicans have hammered Obama for blocking the pipeline project out of concern for the environmentally sensitive areas south of the U.S.-Canada border. Republicans seeking re-election to Congress uniformly branded his decision as a job-killer that undermines energy independence.

While Obama must still face Republican wrath over rising gasoline prices, his opponents will now find it harder to press their attacks over Keystone, a project that garners wide support among American voters.

According to an early February poll by the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of those who had heard about the Keystone XL project thought it should be approved.

With gasoline prices rising significantly even before the heavy summer driving season has begun - average retail prices are now nearly $3.70 a gallon, up from $3.35 a year ago - Republicans tried to connect Keystone with pain at the pump.

For Republicans, Keystone was more than a pipeline project. It was their poster child for what was wrong with White House energy policy.

So the White House was swift to welcome TransCanada's latest announcement. "We'll make sure that any federal permitting that is involved ... will be acted on very quickly" for the southern leg, Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.   Continued...

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) stands next to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) near a map of current oil pipelines in the U.S. during the GOP news conference about the Keystone XL pipeline decision on Capitol Hill in Washington January 18, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas