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Politics Legacy Loom over Obama Decision on Keystone XL Pipeline

Politics Legacy Loom over Obama Decision on

WASHINGTON- President Barack Obama will lay out an agenda on jobs, the economy and the environment during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

But he is unlikely to mention the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a politically charged project that could shape his legacy in each area.Some five years after Keystone XL was proposed, Canadian officials, Republicans and some Democrats in conservative U.S. states are expressing frustration over the lack of a decision by the White House on the initiative.The TransCanada Corp project involves construction of a 1,179-mile (1,900-km) pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect with a previously approved line. That would create a system that could move more than 800,000 barrels of crude from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast each day.

Supporters say Keystone XL would create thousands of jobs and cut U.S. fuel costs by reducing the nation’s reliance on oil imports from nations that are less friendly than Canada. They also point to U.S. government reports about the dangers of moving crude oil by rail as an alternative to the pipeline.Critics of the pipeline plan say it would harm the environment and hasten climate change by promoting oil-harvesting methods in Alberta that produce high levels of carbon dioxide emissions.The project is in limbo while the U.S. State Department finalizes an environmental review, a long-delayed process that has irked allies in Ottawa and advocates on both sides of the issue in the United States.

Behind the scenes, a complex political calculus is at play on everything from the timing of the decision to the outcome.For Obama, a decision in favor of the pipeline could undermine the Democratic president’s environmental credentials and anger activists who have supported him just as his administration is writing new rules to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.A decision against the pipeline could undercut Obama’s pledge to boost employment and U.S. energy security while alienating an important international ally and oil supplier.No matter what Obama decides, an announcement before the midterm congressional elections in November – which many observers expect – could make Keystone a big issue in the races that will determine control of the U.S. Congress.

The Keystone project is a particularly sensitive subject for several Democratic senators from politically divided states who support the pipeline, are under pressure from Republican critics who back the project, and are frustrated with what they see as the administration’s reluctance to decide the matter.

Democratic Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina are prominent Keystone backers and have supported past Republican-led efforts to circumvent Obama on the decision. (Reuters)

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