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Keystone XL looms as Obama wants to cut delays on big projects

May 17, 2013|By Christi Parsons
  • President Obama delivers remarks to highlight American manufacturing at Ellicott Dredges, a Baltimore maker of dredging equipment.
President Obama delivers remarks to highlight American manufacturing… (Kristoffer Tripplaar /…)

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday he wanted to put more Americans back to work by slashing the amount of time it takes to grant federal approval for big job-creating projects.

But Obama’s choice of venue for his remarks of a manufacturing company that makes mining and pumping equipment provided fodder for Republicans. They pointed out that its president had just the day before testified on Capitol Hill in support of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which the Obama administration has delayed for years.

Ellicott Dredges President Peter Bowe says the pipeline, designed to transport crude from oil sands deposits in Alberta, Canada, to the refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, would pour money into his business.

“For us, it’s all about jobs,” Bowe told members of the House Committee on Small Business on Thursday. The project will generate jobs “every year for decades to come, all related to the production of oil from the Alberta oil sands deposits,” he said.

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Obama has spent days trying to manage a rare convergence of controversial stories. He has described how his administration handled the deadly attacks on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya; responded to the IRS' targeting of conservative groups; and defended the Department of Justice's digging into the phone records of journalists.

The plan for Friday had been to begin turning the conversation back to jobs, according to veteran Democratic strategists who advised the White House this week.

“They know that’s what people care about,” said one, who requested anonymity to talk about the private discussions. The White House also believes the economy trumps all other subjects, even the current controversies, for most Americans.

Although there was no sign that Bowe brought up the subject as he showed Obama around the manufacturing shop, the choice of venue put some of the spotlight on the Keystone XL pipeline after Republicans circulated a transcript of Bowe’s testimony.

Obama in his remarks alluded to lengthy delays the government often imposes on major projects,  without referring to Keystone specifically.

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“One of the problems we've had in the past is that sometimes it takes too long to get projects off the ground,” Obama said. “There are all these permits and red tape and planning and this and that, and some of it's important to do, but we could do it faster.”

Obama said that he recently ordered accelerated permitting for 50 big projects across the country, including work on the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York and the Port of Charleston in South Carolina.

“We’ve been able to, in some cases, cut approval times from seven years down to a year,” Obama said, to loud applause from the crowd at the Baltimore plant. “Today I’m directing agencies across the government to do what it takes to cut timelines for breaking ground on major infrastructure projects in half.”

Back in Washington, Republicans scoffed.

“Catching grief for your Keystone delays? Don’t worry, we have just the answer,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Expedite something. It hasn’t worked before, but maybe the press will buy it this time.”

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