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Republicans fight for Keystone XL pipeline

House Speaker John Boehner, center, accompanied by fellow Republican leaders, gestures during a news conference on Wednesday to voice their opposition to President Obama's decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

BALTIMORE -- House Republicans vowed today to keep the controversial Keystone XL pipeline issue on the front burner for the next year to show that President Obama, by denying TransCanada Corporation's request to build a pipeline from the Tar Sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, put the environmental lobby over the country's energy security and Americans who need jobs.

"It means 20 thousand direct jobs here in this country, more than 118 thousand indirect jobs," House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. told reporters at the House Republican annual retreat in Baltimore, Maryland. "As we look to wean ourselves off Middle Eastern oil or being subject to the whims of Venezuela and other places around the world, this is an area where we, in fact, get a million barrels from our friends the Canadians."

As part of the two month payroll tax package that passed the Congress at the end of the last year, Republicans gave President Obama two months to make a decision on whether to approve the pipeline or not. That's after the president had announced he would delay the decision until after the 2012 election to give the administration more time to study the safety and environmental concerns over the pipeline.

Mr. Obama blamed Republicans for forcing his hand, but Republican Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said that's no excuse.

"They've had three years" to approve the pipeline permit, Walden said. "Now we've got the political decision and Americans got the short end of the stick."

Republicans also shot down environmental concerns since all proposals have included an exception for Nebraska to work out a different route than TransCanada proposed. The original route could have hurt fragile environments in that state like the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer.

House Republicans will likely move forward on a bill authored by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., that would take the decision out of the President's hands and place it under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's jurisdiction.

"Seems to me that it makes more sense that we let the experts on pipelines make decisions on whether this is a safe and sound pipeline as opposed to a political entity worried about November elections," Terry said.

It is unclear if Terry's bill, or something similar, will be part of payroll tax extension negotiations, but that is an option according to House Speaker John Boehner. Chairman Upton, who is also a conferee working towards a payroll tax and unemployment insurance extension through the end of the year, said he expects House Republicans to advocate for the pipeline in negotiations though they may also move down other avenues at the same time.

"That is within the scope of the conference in terms of what the two bodies did and I've got to believe that at least two of us will be pushing for that as we move forward" Upton said.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing next week with a State Department assistant secretary testifying to get a better understanding of why the administration denied the permit.