The pipeline is designed to transport synthetic crude oil and diluted asphalt to the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. destinations from Alberta, Canada, north of Montana.
Speaking to a crowd at the Cushing Pipe Yard in Cushing, Okla., the president said part of the oil supply problem was bottlenecks caused by pipeline capacity.
"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. "And today, I'm directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done."
The president conceded he's taken a lot of heat for delaying approval for the entire Keystone XL pipeline from Canada through the United States.
"That's because the original route from Canada into the United States was planned through an area in Nebraska that supplies some drinking water for nearly 2 million Americans, and irrigation for a good portion of America's croplands," the president said. "And Nebraskans of all political stripes -- including the Republican governor there -- raised some concerns about the safety and wisdom of that route."
Before Obama's announcement, Republicans said it was just campaign window dressing.
Obama's announcement took place during the second day of a two-day trip to Western states.
Obama is promoting an "all-of-the-above energy strategy" -- a strategy he said Wednesday "that relies on producing more oil and gas here in America, but also more biofuels, more fuel-efficient cars, more wind power and ... a whole lot more solar power."
After Cushing, Obama flew to Columbus, Ohio, to tour Ohio State University's Center for Automotive Research, where researchers are developing advanced engines, alternative fuels, and energy storage systems to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Obama, who is up for re-election this fall, told an audience in Columbus the United States is drilling more now than ever but drilling alone won't solve the problem.
"Yes, we'll develop as much oil and gas as we can, in a safe way, but we're also going to develop wind power, and solar power, and advanced biofuels," he said. "We can build the next-generation nuclear reactors that are smaller and safer and cleaner and cheaper, but we've got to also look at renewable energy as the key to our future. And we've got to build cars and trucks that get more miles to the gallon. We've got to build homes and businesses that waste less energy, and put consumers in control of their energy bills.
"And we'll do it by harnessing the same type of American ingenuity and imagination that's on display right here at Ohio State," the president said to applause from the crowd.
The U.S. State Department, which has authority over cross-border pipelines, said in January it could not recommend going forward with the Keystone pipeline within a 60-day deadline set by Congress.
Obama the same month rejected the company's application to build the full pipeline, saying a congressional mandate that he decide on the project by mid-February didn't allow enough time to complete environmental reviews.
He said his action was not a final judgment on the project.
Pipeline owner TransCanada Corp. of Calgary said last month it would seek immediate permission to move ahead with the southernmost portion of the project, from Cushing to the gulf, in the hope that that part of the pipeline could be in service by the end of 2013.
As a standalone project, the pipeline's Gulf Coast portion would cost $2.3 billion and create about 4,000 construction and support jobs, the company said.
The White House welcomed the company's decision. That part would not cross any international borders and would not require special approval from the U.S. State Department.
Fast-tracking permits could allow construction on the Cushing MarketLink to begin before the November elections, instead of next year, analysts said.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the president's Cushing announcement was "like a governor personally issuing a fishing license."
"This portion of the pipeline is being built in spite of the president, not because of him," Buck said.
Concerning the rest of the pipeline, White House officials said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday Obama was likely to improve the entire 1,600-mile route to avoid ecologically sensitive areas.
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