Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spoke directly to Canadians at a campaign stop in Tampa Monday, vowing to kick-start the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in the Oval Office.
"I want to promise Canadians on the very first day I will sign an executive order authorizing construction [of Keystone]as of that day," Mr. Gingrich said at a rally here. "Canadians will know on election night they do not have to build a pipeline across the Rockies."
Mr. Gingrich has been the most vocal among the candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in denouncing President Barack Obama's decision to delay granting a permit for the pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta's oil sands to refineries on the Texas coast.
"The danger is the Canadians, out of frustration, are going to decide to do a deal with the Chinese to build a pipeline across the Rockies," Mr. Gingrich added, referring to a proposal to build a pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., that would open up Canadian oil sales to Asia.
While he has routinely shown a shaky grasp of geography – again on Monday he said Keystone XL would originate in "central Canada" – he has not wavered in his commitment to the $7-billion project. But Monday's mention was the farthest he has gone in promising to authorize the project, even though its builder TransCanada has not yet decided on a final route for the pipeline through Nebraska.
Its first proposal through the state's environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region prompted widespread local opposition, leading the Obama administration to ask TransCanada to reroute it.
Mr. Gingrich said the President's move, along with his formal rejection this month of TransCanada's initial proposal, was "just to take care of his environmental extremist friends in San Francisco."
His pledge came as Republicans in Congress push for legislation that would take the decision out of the hands of the Obama administration and simply approve the pipeline.
On Monday, 40 Senators, including one Democrat, signalled their support for a bill that would permit the pipeline, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a Democrat, is almost certain to block the bill from reaching a full vote.
Similar legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives, where a Republican majority gives it a better chance of passing. If a bill did pass both houses of Congress, Mr. Obama would have the power to veto it.
Congressional Republicans have seized on the pipeline debate to try to paint the President as a captive of the environmental movement who is unwilling to approve a project that would create thousands of construction jobs and enhance U.S. energy security.
With a report from Shawn McCarthy