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The Hill - Senators to Obama: Don't Let Keystone Decision Drag into 2014

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By Ben Geman

Four senators -- two from each party -- say President Obama should not allow a State Department inspector general (IG) probe of the Keystone XL pipeline review process to further delay a final permit decision.

The IG recently said its review of the department's selection of a contractor analyzing the project would bleed into 2014, raising the prospect that a federal permit decision could await the outcome.

Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), all pipeline backers, together issued statements Thursday criticizing the potential for more delays in the five-year federal review.

"This tactic of delay and deferral must stop. It is depriving America of jobs, hurting the American economy and hurting the American people," Hoeven said in one of the statements, which underscore efforts by pipeline backers to keep political pressure on the White House.

The senators noted that an earlier phase of the IG's inquiry into a third-party contractor's environmental review gave the project a basically clean bill of health in early 2012.

But that probe yielded new recommendations about the selection process. The IG is now looking at whether those recommendations from that review were applied to selection of the current contractor, Environmental Resources Management, a company green groups allege has a conflict of interest.

The senators say this shouldn't drag out a final decision on whether to permit TransCanada Corp.'s pipeline, which would bring oil from Alberta's oil sands projects across the border en route to Gulf Coast refineries.

"We cannot sit by while excuse after excuse delays jobs in Montana and across the country," Baucus said. "We've had years of studies and the President's own State Department has repeatedly concluded the environment won't be harmed. It's past time to put Americans to work building the Keystone pipeline."

Keystone, in addition to transporting Canadian oil, would haul oil from North Dakota and Montana.

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