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Pressure builds on Obama over proposed oil pipeline

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 6:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama's decision on whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline looms huge now that the election is over, and it could define Obama on energy and climate change.

The oil industry, which is pushing hard for approval, describes the choice as the president's “first test to the American people.”

Environmental groups are promising that thousands of activists will demonstrate against the pipeline on Sunday outside the White House, just the beginning of the efforts planned to sink the project.

Energy analyst Charles Ebinger said he thought two weeks ago that there was little chance Obama would kill the pipeline. He's increasingly less sure about that.

“It appears major environmental organizations and strong environmental supporters of the president are suggesting this is a litmus test for whether the second Obama administration is with them or against them,” said Ebinger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution research center in Washington.

In January, Obama denied a permit for the northern section of the pipeline, saying the route through Nebraska needed more environmental review. That put off his final decision on the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would bring oil from the Alberta oil sands in Canada to American refineries on the Gulf Coast, until after the election.

Environmentalists were thrilled. The Congressional Research Service concluded this year that crude oil from the sands produces 14 to 20 percent more planet-warming gases than the average oil in U.S. refineries does.

The service found, based on a review of available studies, that approval of the pipeline could be the equivalent of putting up to 4 million more cars on the road.

The figures are disputed, but a more conservative assessment by the energy research group IHS CERA found that the oil sands produced 9 percent more greenhouse gases than average.

“This decision has huge implications in terms of what direction we go in as a nation in the near term in addressing climate,” said Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. “By saying yes to this pipeline, you're basically saying yes to the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuel out there.”

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