WASHINGTON – A high-profile group of senators - nine Democrats and nine Republicans - has urged President Barack Obama to quickly issue a permit for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project environmental groups have vowed to keep fighting.
The senators asked Obama to approve the pipeline because it will reduce the need for oil imports from the Middle East and create jobs. They were led by Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and powerful chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, who both represent the booming Bakken oil region.
Last year, Obama put a hold on the pipeline designed to carry oil from Canada and the Bakken formation, citing environmental concerns with a portion of the route in Nebraska. The TransCanada Corp project needs a presidential permit because it would cross an international border.
The senators' letter comes just ahead of a large protest against the pipeline planned for the White House on Sunday by environmental groups.
Nebraska's state government could wrap up its work examining a new route by the end of the year, and the State Department is working on a review that the senators said hope will affirm the project is in the national interest.
The senators urged Obama to issue a permit for the project "immediately afterward."
"Setting politics aside: nothing has changed about the thousands of jobs that Keystone XL will create," the senators said in a letter to be sent on Friday, asking to meet with Obama soon on the project.
"Nothing has changed about the security to be gained from using more fuel produced at home and by a close and stable ally. And nothing has changed about the need for America to remain a place where businesses can still build things," they said.
Baucus repeatedly has bucked his party to back the pipeline. He was joined on the letter by other Democrats from states rich in fossil fuels, including Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Mark Begich of Alaska.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also signed the letter, along with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Energy Committee, and Rob Portman of Ohio, a former budget director for President George W. Bush, who had been considered as a vice-presidential running mate for Mitt Romney.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Matthew Lewis and Prudence Crowther)