President Obama is facing increasing pressure from Senate Democrats to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, following the release Friday of a State Department report that raised no major environmental concerns.
“Today's Environmental Impact Statement confirms what Alaskans already know -- there are ways to safely and responsibly diversify our domestic energy supply,” said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. “Move this project forward.”
Begich also said he will continue to “demand” that Obama approve the $7 billion pipeline project while reminding him that development in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean and National Petroleum Reserve is critical in securing the county’s energy independence from foreign countries.
He was joined Friday by Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in calling on Obama to approve the project, proposed back in 2010.
“This new study underscores what has been said all along about Keystone XL Pipeline: It’s time to build,” Landrieu said.
Begich and Landrieu are in tough, 2014 re-election efforts in conservative-leaning, energy-producing states.
“I urge the administration to act swiftly and give final approval so we can put people to work in these good-paying jobs right away,” said Landrieu, who like other Keystone supporters says the project will add tens of thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy.
The 1,179-mile pipeline if approved would carry oil from tar sands in western Canada to a hub in Nebraska, then connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in Texas.
The environmental assessment released Friday from the State Department isn't the last step in deciding whether the pipeline can be built, the White House said late Friday.
However, it was a serious blow to environmentalists' hopes that Obama will block the controversial project.
The White House released a statement pushing back on the notion that the pipeline is now headed for speedy approval, saying Secretary of State John Kerry and other agency heads will "closely evaluate" the report in the coming weeks.
Republican supporters said the report should compel Obama to swiftly green-light the project.
"This report from the Obama administration once again confirms that there is no reason for the White House to continue stalling construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "So, Mr. President, no more stalling -- no more excuses."
The Canadian government, which wants Keystone approved, also pressed the administration to act, though a final decision could be months off.
"Today's report confirms once again this result, including no appreciable impact on greenhouse gases," Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in a statement. "We await a timely decision on this project."
The State Department report stops short of recommending approval, but it could give Obama cover if he chooses to endorse the pipeline.
Though Republicans are largely united behind the project, it has divided Democrats, with unions pressing for approval as environmental groups adamantly opposed it.
Critics say the pipeline would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.
The State Department report effectively said Canadian tar sands are likely to be developed regardless of U.S. action on the pipeline. An official added that other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries -- including rail, trucks and barges -- would be worse for climate change.
State Department approval is needed because the pipeline crosses a U.S. border. The Environmental Protection Agency and other departments will have 90 days to comment before State makes a recommendation to Obama on whether the project is in the national interest. A final decision by the government is not expected before summer.
The new report comes only days after Obama's State of the Union address, in which he reiterated his support for an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy that embraces a wide range of sources, from oil and natural gas to renewables such as wind and solar power.
Begich said afterward that he was “disappointed” that Obama didn’t include mention of Keystone XL, while the president’s environmental allies argued his support of expanded oil and gas production doesn't make sense for a president who wants to reduce pollution linked to global warming.
Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline in January 2012, saying he did not have enough time for a fair review before a looming deadline forced on him by congressional Republicans. That delayed the choice for him until after his re-election.
Obama also said in a New York Times interview last year that there was "no evidence" the pipeline would be a "big jobs generator," claiming it might create 2,000 jobs in the construction phase and far fewer permanent jobs.
But pipeline supporters have challenged that claim. House Speaker John Boehner said it could create "more than 100,000 jobs," citing separate analyses which include indirect jobs.
"President Obama is out of excuses," Boehner said Friday.
U.S. and Canadian accident investigators warned last week about the dangers of oil trains that transport crude oil from North Dakota and other states to refineries in the U.S. and Canada. The officials urged new safety rules, cautioning that a "major loss of life" could result from an accident involving the increasing use of trains to transport large amounts of crude oil.
Several high-profile accidents involving crude oil shipments -- including a fiery explosion in North Dakota and an explosion that killed 47 people in Canada last year -- have raised alarms. Keystone XL would travel through Montana and South Dakota before reaching Nebraska. An existing spur runs through Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.