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Republicans prepare for next round in Keystone pipeline fight

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Jan. 24, 2012: Protesters against the Keystone XL pipeline dressed as referees throw red penalty flags during a rally on Capitol Hill. (AP)

Republicans are gearing up for another showdown over the Canada-to-Texas Keystone pipeline, pushing a bill that would compel approval of the project after President Obama denied a critical permit. 

The Obama administration has not killed the pipeline. Rather, Obama claimed last month that Republicans did not give his administration enough time when they pushed for a permitting decision within 60 days -- the president denied that permit, presumably sidelining the issue at the height of campaign season as the company TransCanada scrambles to reapply. 

But Republicans, who have assailed Obama's decision as bad for the economy and bad for energy security, want to get the project back on the rails. 

They plan to make an end run around the State Department, which typically has jurisdiction over cross-border permits, and are teeing up a committee vote for Tuesday on a bill that would do just that. 

"It's time for Congress to take this decision out of the president's hands and take the politics out of a commonsense pipeline that will bring economic and energy security," Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. 

Republicans' proposed bill would hand the permitting issue over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It would direct the group to approve the permit within 30 days, as well as a proposed re-routing of the pipeline's Nebraska section following a review by that state. 

Nebraska's governor, Dave Heineman, has said he expects to have a new route proposal before the feds by August or September. 

Upton is aiming for a floor vote by the end of February in the House, where Republicans hold a commanding majority. The bill's chances in the Senate are murkier, though some Democratic senators have spoken out in opposition to the Obama administration's decision. 

The pipeline debate has become mired in election-year politics. The Republican presidential candidates have hammered the president for first delaying the project with a State Department decision last year, and then denying the permit last month. 

Meanwhile, the project has Democrats caught between two powerful and vocal constituencies. Environmentalists, concerned about climate change and health risks, oppose the project. But labor unions are eager for the thousands of jobs it's expected to bring. 

Environmentalist-leaning Democrats on Capitol Hill have staunchly defended the administration's decision. 

"If they want jobs, they should support President Obama's jobs bill. ... not this pipeline," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said Friday. 

Waxman also joined several other House Democrats Friday in introducing a bill that seeks to ensure that oil from the pipeline project is sold to the U.S. and not other countries -- if the project is approved. 

"American taxpayers are assuming all of the risk for this pipeline ... at the very least, we should have it written in stone that Keystone oil will stay here in the United States," Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement.