WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will announce in Oklahoma on Thursday that he is directing federal agencies to make the Cushing-to-Texas pipeline a top priority under a new executive order aimed at streamlining permits for construction projects, White House officials said Wednesday.
The president's announcement is expected to be made at a pipe yard near Cushing owned by TransCanada, which wants to build a pipeline from the oil storage hub there to the Texas Gulf Coast to relieve the excess of crude built up from increased domestic production.
“The goal here is to create jobs as quickly as possible,” a White House official told reporters.
Obama announced in his State of the Union speech in January that he would sign an executive order “clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects.”
The president is expected to issue that order on Thursday and specifically direct federal agencies “to expedite the Cushing Pipeline and other pipelines that relieve bottlenecks as the top priority” of the new order.
How much that will speed up the beginning of construction of the pipeline from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast wasn't clear. In fact, there seemed to be some confusion about whether TransCanada already had applied for permits.
The White House said Wednesday the company had not applied for any permits, but a TransCanada spokesman said Tuesday and Wednesday the company was working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve the project and hoped to begin construction in the second quarter of this year.
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee claimed Wednesday that the only issues outstanding for the Cushing-to-Texas pipeline were a Clean Water Act permit to be issued by the Army Corps of Engineers and a biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Republican-controlled committee said those approvals “should have been granted long ago, but for the Obama administration's continued foot dragging, delaying approval of the project that has been under review for more than three years. For the president to claim credit for speeding up a process that his team delayed is misleading and purely political theater.”
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The Cushing-to-Gulf Coast pipeline was one segment of the Keystone XL project proposed by TransCanada to carry crude from Canada, Montana and North Dakota to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The U.S. State Department in January rejected a cross-border permit for the pipeline because a route through Nebraska had not been determined. However, the company has been working with Nebraska officials and is expected to reapply in the next few weeks for a permit for the segment from Canada to Steele City, Neb.
Obama embarked Wednesday on a four-state energy tour that took him first to a solar facility in Nevada, where he said, “So as long as I'm president, we're going to develop every available source of energy.”
The president said that “an energy strategy that focuses only on drilling and not on an energy strategy that will free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil — that's a losing strategy. That's not a strategy I'm going to pursue.”
Obama headed from Nevada to an oil field on federal land in New Mexico. After his remarks in Oklahoma on Thursday, he is scheduled to travel to Ohio State University to talk about energy research.
In Washington on Wednesday, Republicans derided the president's energy tour.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said, “Unfortunately, we know President Barack Obama's Oklahoma trip is little more than a campaign stop in an attempt to salvage his dismal energy record, as skyrocketing gas prices — which his policies are expressly designed to create — threaten his job. We know that President Barack Obama still thinks that oil and gas are the fuels of the past, as does the ‘green team' he surrounds himself with.”
House Speaker John Boehner's office said the president “has consistently thrown up roadblocks to American energy production.”
The president's expected announcement drew fire from environmental groups, who accused Obama of rushing the pipeline review.
Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “The nation deserves an energy policy that meets our needs, but not at the expense of our climate, air and water. It is downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting the southern segment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — especially when the industry has a history of oil spills. We already know from experience that tar sands oil is more likely to spill and harder to clean up once it spills. The people of Oklahoma, Texas and the rest of the country deserve better.”