Obama pledges quick approval of Keystone pipeline’s southern leg


President Obama said Thursday morning that his administration has assured the builder of the Keystone pipeline that the federal government will promptly review the southern leg of the project, which the company hopes to start building this summer.

“The southern leg of it, we’re making a priority,” Obama told a crowd of company officials, pipe workers and community members gathered here at the starting point of this stretch of the project.

The northern portion of the project, Obama said, “we’re going to have to review to make sure that the health and safety of the American people are protected.”

The Obama administration has denied a permit for that northern pipeline, opposed by environmentalists because the original plans would have run it through environmentally sensitive lands.

Republicans questioned whether the president’s expedited review would actually advance the southern part of the project from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas.

The builder is “moving forward with a southern portion of [the pipeline] that doesn’t require Mr. Obama’s signature,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner. “So cue the political opportunism.”

Officials of TransCanada, the builder of the pipeline, were present at the event but declined to comment. After the White House announced presidential directives Wednesday to expedite the project, a company official said they didn’t expect the development to speed up the project.

While Obama may not have the power to move up the start date, he could delay it. The project still needs final approval from at least one federal agency, which could slow things up if the administration had a concern.

On Thursday, Obama signaled that he likes the project -- and, in fact, sees the advancement of the pipeline as politically advantageous.

This is “an oil town,” Obama told the cheering crowd.

“Producing more oil and gas here at home has been and will continue to be a critical part of an all-of-the-above strategy” to meeting America’s energy needs, he said.

President Obama pledges quick approval of Cushing, Okla., pipeline