Business groups, Republicans launch onslaught on president over Keystone

01-12-2012 // Ben Geman

This excerpt is from The Hill

The nation’s most powerful business groups are dialing up the political pressure on the White House to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

December’s payroll-tax-cut deal gives the administration 60 days to approve or reject TransCanada Corp.’s pipeline to bring oil from Alberta’s tar sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue plans to highlight the pipeline in his closely watched annual speech Thursday on the state of American business.

“Keystone — and energy as a whole — will be a major element of Tom’s speech tomorrow,” a spokesman for the business group said Wednesday.

Separately, Business Roundtable President John Engler, a former GOP governor of Michigan, will hold a news conference Thursday touting what advocates call the jobs and energy security benefits of the project.

This week’s actions are part of a wider GOP and industry blitz in favor of Keystone. Republicans are using the pipeline as an election-season political weapon against President Obama, arguing he can create jobs and help the economy by approving it.

The powerful American Petroleum Institute has launched an ad campaign in favor of the project, and API President Jack Gerard last week issued a blunt warning to Obama: Approve the pipeline or face “huge political consequences.”

The pipeline is tricky political terrain for the White House.

Environmentalists strongly oppose the project due to greenhouse gas emissions and other concerns, while a number of labor unions — another key part of Obama’s base — back the project as a job creator.

Republicans are unlikely to let Obama off the hook if he rejects the project in February. They signaled Wednesday that they could seek to add new Keystone provisions to the yearlong payroll-tax-cut package that lawmakers plan to negotiate once they return from recess.

Asked whether Republicans would seek to insert Keystone provisions into the next payroll-tax-cut package, House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) spokesman Michael Steel replied: “We’ll take a look at our options.

“We hope, of course, that he will do the right thing and approve the project as soon as possible.”

Senate Republicans might insist on a new extension for Keystone if the administration doesn’t approve the project by the Feb. 21 deadline set by the December payroll-tax deal.

A Senate GOP aide said Republicans hope Obama does the “right thing” and approves the project, but added: “It’s prudent that we consider all eventualities and have a response prepared.”

In an attempt to parry the pro-Keystone onslaught, green groups are working to provide the White House with political cover.

Jeremy Symons, a senior official with the National Wildlife Federation, slammed the Chamber in a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

“In our view, the national Chamber of Commerce’s support for the Keystone pipeline scam demonstrates once again that the Chamber is a pay-to-play operation that has been taken over by big oil companies,” he said Wednesday.

More broadly, environmentalists who staged high-profile demonstrations against Keystone at the White House last year are planning to renew their efforts.

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