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Environmental groups dub inclusion of Keystone XL in payroll tax bill ‘most cynical anti-enviro stunt’

Colorado and national environmental groups today were sharply critical of congressional plans to accelerate a White House decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline as part of a deal to extend payroll tax relief and unemployment benefits.

“Attaching the Keystone XL Pipeline decision to a tax-relief bill for working families is the most cynical, destructive, anti-environmental stunt the U.S. House has pulled so far,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action in Fort Collins.

“Our organization has over 1 million members nationwide, including tens of thousands in swing states like Colorado. All eyes are on the White House now.”

The Obama administration in November won environmental praise for delaying a decision until 2013 on the pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Early plans for the route included an alternative through Colorado, but later versions ran through Nebraska, where lawmakers were poised to fight possible impacts to the Sand Hills area.

House Republicans working on the payroll tax relief and unemployment extension bill included a provision asking Obama to review the Keystone XL proposal and make a decision within two months.

“This bill … accelerates a decision on the Keystone XL energy pipeline, a measure that will help the private sector create more jobs,” Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner said in a release over the weekend. “It requires that a permitting decision on the pipeline be made within 60 days unless the president determines the project is not in the national interest.”

But now the entire bill, which would also stop a nearly 30 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors, is stalled because House Republicans are insisting on at least a one-year deal instead of the two-month stop-gap measure the Senate overwhelmingly passed on Saturday. House Speaker John Boehner wants Congress to work through the holidays, but Democrats and even some Senate Republicans say they’re tired of the uncompromising position of House GOP members.

The inclusion of the Keystone XL provision was seen as a huge victory for House Republicans who bristled at Obama’s delay, saying the administration was putting environmental considerations over jobs creation.

“President Obama wants to delay a final decision on the project for a full year, after the next election,” said Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn. “That massive project will not only bring much needed oil to America’s refineries, it will create 20,000 [jobs] just in the construction of the pipeline alone.”

However, even the job numbers have been called into question on the proposed pipeline, which environmentalists fear will expose large swaths of the nation to potential pipeline spills while allowing the free flow of tar sands oil – one of the most carbon-intensive forms of petroleum production.

Locally, the Suncor refinery in Commerce City that recently spilled sludge into a tributary of the Platte River refines oil pumped in by pipeline from the tar sands fields of Alberta. Pipeline safety has been a hot topic since this summer’s ExxonMobil spill in the Yellowstone River of Montana.

Climate change author and activist Bill McKibben skewered the inclusion of Keystone XL in the payroll tax relief bill.

“The dirty energy industry wants the pipeline fast-tracked, and is demanding that the president grant or deny a permit within two months; they’re going to do all they can to make that happen,” McKibben wrote on his group’s website.

“The administration knows that Americans don’t want that permit granted,” McKibben said. “They know because many of you encircled the White House in November, and submitted more public comments than on any energy project in history, and because yesterday the climate movement flooded the White House switchboard with so many phone calls that the busy signal was the sound of the day.”

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