Obama to fast-track part of Keystone XL pipeline

Under fire over sky-high gas prices, President Barack Obama embarks Wednesday on a two-day trip to defend his energy policy from a Republican onslaught linking his policies to Americans feeling pain at the pump. He will announce plans to fast-track the permit process for the southern portion of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to CNN

The White House announced last week that Obama would use a stop in Cushing, Okla., on Thursday to highlight his support for the southern portion of the pipeline after he blocked the overall project amid anger from environmentalists. Republicans have used the issue to bludgeon Obama's energy policy, blaming him for the high cost of filling up at the pump.

Now CNN reports, citing "a source familiar with the president's announcement," that Obama will announce in Cushing that his administration will put the southern section of Keystone on the fast-track to approval. "The permit process for a project like this can typically take a year or more. The source familiar with the president's announcement says the administration could shave several months off that timeline," says the network.

Administration officials declined to confirm the report, though one senior Obama aide told reporters to expect that the president will make some news on the trip.

If confirmed, the decision would seem likely to anger environmentalists—and do little to quiet Republican criticisms—and is unlikely to lead to an immediate fall in gas prices. But it could reinforce the White House's argument that Obama supports an "all of the above" energy policy, including the exploitation of domestic oil and natural gas deposits.

Republicans immediately mocked the plan, with a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, Brendan Buck, comparing it to "a governor personally issuing a fishing license."

'There is only a minor, routine permit needed for this leg of the project. Only a desperate administration would inject the President of the United States into this trivial matter. The President's attempt to take credit for a pipeline he blocked and personally lobbied Congress against is staggering in its disingenuousness. This portion of the pipeline is being built in spite of the President, not because of him," Buck said in a statement.

The White House has shot back at Republicans that domestic oil production is at an all-time high while Obama mocks his critics as having simplistic solutions to the complex problem of high gas prices. And the president himself has embraced the language congressional Republicans use to describe their approach, saying he favors an "all of the above" energy strategy.

But a recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll found 73 percent of respondents had heard of the Keystone project and 64 percent said they favored giving the pipeline the green light. Other polls taken in 2012 have found roughly half of respondents say they think that presidents have tools at their disposal to bring down gas prices.

Obama's Wednesday-Thursday trip will take him to Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio (all except Oklahoma are up for grabs in the presidential election).

The president will "highlight his administration's all of the above energy strategy, including his focus on continuing to expand responsible oil and gas development, increasing the fuel economy of the vehicles we drive which will save families money at the pump, supporting renewable energy sources, and investing in infrastructure and research and development, all of which play a central role in increasing our nation's energy security," the White House said in a statement last week.

On Wednesday, Obama will visit a solar power plant in Boulder City, Nev., and then later will travel to oil and gas production fields on federal lands outside Carlsbad, N.M. On Thursday, he will visit the pipeline site, and then take a look at energy-related research facilities at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Update 8:09 pm: This piece has been updated to include the response from House Republicans.

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