GOP Senators push Obama to develop Keystone XL Pipeline

A group of senators led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and Sen. John Hoeven, (R-N.D.) presented new legislation Wednesday on Capitol Hill that gives the Obama administration 60 days to approve the production of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

If passed, the Secretary of State must issue a construction permit for the $7 billion pipeline that will bring Alberta crude oil to refineries on the U.S. gulf coast, unless the president determines that it is "not in the national interest."

"If the administration would simply get out of the way and allow it to go forward, it would create jobs almost immediately - lots of jobs," said Sen. McConnell.

The Administration was widely expected to approve the project by year's end, but environmental activists voiced strong objections to the construction of a project that would involve a potentially-vulnerable pipeline traversing multiple states. The White House recently announced it would postpone any decision until after the 2012 election.

McConnell accused the president of playing politics. "There is absolutely no reason to delay a permit decision on the Keystone pipeline, and the jobs that come with it, for another year in a blatant attempt to appease the President's political base. This is the definition of shovel-ready jobs," McConnell said.

The State Department responded to the Republican measure by repeating that it likely would take until early 2013 to complete a new environmental review.

"The department remains committed to ensuring a transparent, thorough and rigorous review of whether the proposed pipeline project is in the national interest," a department spokesman told reporters.

National Resources Defense Council's Anthony Swift posted on a blog Wednesday afternoon his reaction to the GOP proposal saying, "The bill ignores the voices of Americans across the country who have asked the President to consider their serious concerns about the impact Keystone XL would have on landowners, the environment and our country's energy future."

America currently imports about two million barrels a day from Canada. Lawmakers stressed that if approved the U.S. would see that figure increase by another 700,000 barrels. That gain alone would be more than the U.S. currently imports from Venezuela.

"We have a dramatic opportunity to create American jobs now," said Sen. Lugar. "The Keystone XL Pipeline is the largest infrastructure project ready now. For construction in the United States, President Obama has the opportunity to help create 20,000 new jobs now. Incredibly, he's delayed the decision until after the 2012 election apparently in fear of offending a part of his political base."

The U.S. State Department delayed approval of the pipeline until environmental assessments can be made for a new route that would take the pipeline away from Nebraska's Sand Hills region and the Ogalalla aquifer that supplies water to eight states.

"This is bad energy policy," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a ranking member on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "This is politics - plain and simple."

Canadian pipeline company TransCanada Corp. has been trying to bring the project to fruition for more than three years. At a news conference at the Nebraska Capitol Monday, TransCanada agreed to change the route of a controversial proposed oil pipeline so that it doesn't pass through environmentally-sensitive areas of Nebraska.

U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) also cosponsored the bill today to prevent further delays.

"I've said all along that I have nothing against tar sands oil or oil pipelines. Now that TransCanada has agreed to change the pipeline route in Nebraska, it makes sense to ensure the President's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is not delayed for political purposes," said Johanns.

While the Keystone XL Pipeline has drawn opposition from environmentalists, lawmakers still say the pipeline would promote job creation and economic growth at a time when US voters worry about unemployment ahead of November 2012 elections.

Fox News Senior Capitol Hill Producer Trish Turner contributed to this report.