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Obama, on site, praises development of portion of oil pipeline


CUSHING, OK -- Surrounded by massive green pipes that will eventually make up part of the Keystone oil pipeline, President Obama today praised the decision by TransCanada to move forward with the southern portion of the controversial energy project.

"Right now, a company called TransCanada has applied to build a new pipeline to speed more oil from Cushing to state-of-the-art refineries down on the Gulf Coast," Obama said in Cushing, OK. "And today, I am directing my administration to cut through red tape, break through bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority."

Obama also used the occasion to announce that he is instructing federal agencies to expedite the permitting process for the Cushing pipeline as well as an executive order for agencies to overall issue permits faster for “vital infrastructure projects.”

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

President Obama talks about his administration's energy efforts on Thursday in Cushing, Okla.

Since news of this announcement broke on Tuesday, Republicans have slammed the move as an attempt to take ownership of a process over which the White House has no actual authority.

“The president can take credit for having nothing to do with the bottom half of this pipeline, and the fact is is there's only one permit that requires his approval because it crosses our national boundaries and that's the keystone decision on the upper half of this," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

President Obama speaks to a crowd Thursday in Cushing, Okla., explaining the need to construct an oil pipeline that reaches America's Gulf Coast.

Republicans have been vocal in their criticism of the Obama administration for not moving forward with the full pipeline; the administration declined earlier this year to approve a permit request that would have allowed for the construction of the full, transnational oil pipeline.

Obama said in Cushing that he would continue pushing for oil exploration and development, but he would seek to "do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people."

"We don't have to choose between one or the other," he said, "We can do both."

But the White House on Wednesday provided an unclear picture of which agencies specifically would have authority to expedite the procedure for the TransCanada route and other pipelines.

Asked during a flight from Washington, D.C. to Nevada, where the president spoke earlier Wednesday, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “I just don’t have those details handy for you” when asked which agencies are involved in such processes.

Senior administration officials were later asked the same question on a conference call, as a reporter mentioned the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers as two agencies that might be involved.

One official said that permitting and review requirements would depend on the specific route and details of each pipeline plan but that “the agencies you suggested are in line with our best estimate.”

After his speech in Cushing, President Obama flew to Columbus, Ohio to make a speech on energy research and development at Ohio State University.

Michael O'Brien contributed