Senate Republican leader says he asked Trump to back Keystone XL pipeline

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The top Republican in the U.S. Senate says he asked president-elect Donald Trump to move swiftly in approving construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would allow Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. to ship bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Friday that he made the request during his Capitol Hill meeting with Trump a day earlier.

“That’s the kind of thing that I hope he’ll be looking at, and we’re helping him look at,” McConnell said.

He said there are things Trump can do quickly on his own “because much of what President Obama did that slowed our economy he did on his own, either executive orders or regulations.”

President Barack Obama vetoed legislation that would have moved ahead with construction of the US$8 billion pipeline, but the prospect of an all-Republican U.S. government next year boosts the chances for Keystone XL.

Project supporters, including unions and lawmakers from both parties, tout the jobs it would create and demand its approval, while environmentalists urged the president to reject it, saying it would carry dirty, carbon-intensive oil.

McConnell used the widely disputed figure of 20,000 jobs to be created immediately from the pipeline, while earlier this week TransCanada (TSX:TRP) touted the 9,000 construction jobs, plus tens of thousands of spinoff jobs, it would create.

TransCanada did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. But on Wednesday it said it’s evaluating how to engage with the Trump administration on Keystone XL’s benefits and remains fully committed to the project.

The 1,900-kilometre pipeline would carry about 800,000 barrels a day of crude from Alberta and North Dakota to Nebraska, where existing pipelines would bring the oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

Since Trump won the presidential election on Tuesday, some including interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose have urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to push for Keystone’s speedy approval. Trudeau has backed the project in the past.

During the U.S. presidential campaign, Trump said he supports the project “100 per cent,” but that he’d look to negotiate a greater benefit from it before approval.

After Obama rejected Keystone last year, TransCanada filed for NAFTA arbitration seeking $15 billion in damages, claiming the decision was arbitrary and politically driven.

— With files from The Canadian Press