Obama Defends Oil Record, Fast-Tracks Portion Of Keystone Pipeline

LM Otero/AP Photo

CUSHING, Okla. - President Obama visited an oil repository in the solidly red state of Oklahoma today to announce plans to fast-track the southern leg of the controversial Keystone pipeline amid Republican criticism that his administration is not doing enough to tackle rising gas prices.

"I am directing my administration to cut through red tape, break through bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority," the president told the crowd gathered at the cold, muddy pipe yard near the starting point of the southern portion of the pipeline.

Defending his energy strategy, Obama continued to argue that his administration is receptive to domestic drilling, even if he has not given the go-ahead for the full Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

"We're drilling all over the place, right now. That's not the challenge. That's not the problem. In fact, the problem in a place like Cushing is that we're actually producing so much oil … that we don't have enough pipeline capacity to transport it all where it needs to go," he said.

Obama announced a new Executive Order that would make permitting the southern leg of the pipeline a top priority. The move also established a multi-agency task force to identify the most urgent projects and create a roadmap for permitting them by the end of May.

The president faced fierce pushback from Republicans after he rejected the full pipeline in January. Obama has said he refused to approve the project because Congress cut short the environmental review process.

"Our experts said that they needed a certain amount of time to review the project. Unfortunately, Congress decided to set their own timeline based on their own politics, and made it impossible for us to make an informed decision," the president said today.

A majority of Americans think the government should approve the building of the pipeline. According to a new Gallup poll, 57 percent of the public believes the Obama administration should okay the pipeline's construction, while 29 percent are opposed.

Republicans said the president's latest move to expedite the southern portion of the Keystone project hypes his role in alleviating the pipeline shortage.

"The approval needed for this leg of the project is so minor and routine that only a desperate administration would inject the president of the United States into the process," a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "This is like the governor holding a press conference to renew my driver's license - except this announcement still leaves American energy and jobs behind."

Accelerating the permitting process also puts the president at odds with his environmental base. "In expediting the southern portion of Keystone XL, President Obama is trying to have it both ways," Kim Huynh, dirty fuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said. "The administration cannot purport to protect the climate while simultaneously bending over backward to allow a pipeline to the continent's biggest carbon bomb."

Obama continued to argue today that domestic oil production is simply one piece of the energy puzzle and "isn't enough to bring gas prices down overnight."

Instead, Obama pitched his all-of-the-above energy production strategy, arguing investments in alternative energy sources will ultimately ease the pain at the pump.

"It's a strategy that will keep reducing our dependence on foreign oil, put more people to work, and ultimately stop the spikes is gas prices we've put up with year after year," he said.