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Obama's new climate pledge will face test in oil pipeline decision

Jan 29, 2013 - By Matthew Daly, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Environmental groups say President Barack Obama's warning about climate change will soon be tested as he decides whether to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Obama pledged in his inaugural speech Monday to respond to what he called the threat of climate change, saying: "Failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

By singling out climate change, Obama indicated a willingness to take on an issue that he acknowledges was often overlooked during his first term. He also was setting up a likely confrontation with congressional Republicans who have opposed legislative efforts to curb global warming.

Environmental groups said the president's first test on climate change could come early this year as he decides whether to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline that will carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas.

The State Department is reviewing the pipeline and is expected to make a recommendation to Obama as soon as April. The State Department has federal jurisdiction because the $7 billion pipeline begins in Canada.

Obama blocked the pipeline last year, citing uncertainty over the project's route through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska. On Tuesday, the state's Republican governor, Dave Heineman, gave his approval to a revised route for the pipeline, a widely anticipated move that nonetheless added to the political pressure for the Obama administration to approve or reject the new route without delay.

Republicans and many business groups say the project would help achieve energy independence for North America and create thousands of jobs.

But environmental groups say the pipeline would transport "dirty oil" and produce heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming. They also worry about a possible spill.

"Starting with rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, the president must make fighting global warming a central priority," said Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called Obama's comments on climate change "exactly right."

Andrew Hoffman, director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, said Obama's focus on climate showed political backbone.

"He finally had the courage to acknowledge the words 'climate change,'" Hoffman said, adding that Obama and other administration officials have frequently used words such as green jobs or clean energy to describe energy policy, instead of the more politically charged term.

"I find it very interesting that in this second term he's just coming right out and saying that climate change is exactly what we're dealing with," Hoffman said.

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