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Reuters Photo Protesters rally against the Keystone XL oil pipeline outside the White House in Washington on Monday night.

ND senators push for Keystone XL approval: Hoeven hosts bipartisan press conference, urging Obama to approve the proposed pipeline

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The State Department’s final environmental impact study on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in the books, and North Dakota’s senators were part of a bipartisan group of six who joined with business leaders Tuesday to advocate for its approval.

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Proponents of the long-debated 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico came together at a press conference in Washington arranged by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to continue putting pressure on President Barack Obama to approve the project.

“We had a broad coalition showing a broad base of support for the project,” Hoeven said in a phone interview following the press conference. “It starts with the fact that, in recent polls, 70 percent of the American people want this project approved. What we showed today is that Republicans and Democrats, on a bipartisan basis in the Senate and the House, want it approved. We also had labor and business leaders today, and Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer, all saying they want to see this project done.”

The pipeline — with a price tag of close to $7 billion — would carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day to U.S. refineries in Texas, mostly from Alberta’s oil sands. It could also transport about 100,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day. Proponents have predicted the construction of the pipeline would create close to 40,000 jobs.

Approval of the Keystone XL has been held up largely because of opposition from environmental interest groups — mostly on the left — who believe it will add to climate change issues. The latest environmental impact study, however, predicted the pipeline would not be responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than would be released from transporting oil by rail.

Proponents of the pipeline have argued that the debate has wrongly shifted to a climate change conversation instead of whether or not the Keystone XL is a safe alternative to move oil.

“This is in our best interest,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. “It’s in our best economic, national security and energy security interests to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s past time for the president to make a decision — the right decision — and approve this project so we encourage and benefit from energy production from a friend and ally, rather than get those resources from volatile countries elsewhere across the world.”

Heitkamp and three other Senate Democrats — Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska — joined Hoeven and Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker at Tuesday’s press conference. The senators repeatedly referred to what they called “excuses” as to why the Obama administration has not yet approved the project.

“If the president won’t approve the Keystone XL, we need to work to get bipartisan support in Congress to get Congressional approval,” Hoeven said. “One of the next steps will be a North American leaders summit on Feb. 19, where President Obama will meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada. We fully expect Canada will push the issue then.”

Hoeven said his goal is to get 60 yes votes for approval of the Keystone XL in the Senate — thereby potentially bypassing the need for the administration’s blessing — but said, as of this week, there are likely only about 55 who would vote in its favor.

“The administration is pushing back or we’d already have 60,” Hoeven said. “We’re fighting for more votes every day. The administration has spent more than five years studying this project and five environmental impact studies have each found that the Keystone XL pipeline poses no significant risk to the environment.”

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