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Anger at Obama pipeline rejection

Barack Obama has sparked a huge row by rejecting plans for a massive oil pipeline through the heart of the United States, saying there was not enough time for a fair review before a looming deadline forced on him by Republicans.

The US president's move did not kill the project, but could again delay a tough choice for him until after the November elections, and immediately the implications rippled across the political spectrum, stirred up the presidential campaign and even hardened feelings with Canada, a trusted US ally and neighbour.

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper has said Canada is serious about building a pipeline to its west coast, where oil could be shipped to China and other Asian markets. He told Mr Obama he was profoundly disappointed that he had turned down the pipeline, Mr Harper's office said.

For a US electorate eager for work, the pipeline has become the very symbol of job creation for Republicans, but Mr Obama says the environment and public safety must be considered too. The plan by Calgary-based TransCanada would carry tar sands oil from western Canada across a 1,700-mile pipeline across six US states to Texas refineries.

Mr Obama was already on record as saying no, for now, until his government could review an alternative route that avoided environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska - a route that has still not been proposed, as the White House emphasises.

But he had to take a stand again by February 21 at the latest as part of an unrelated tax deal he made with Republicans. This time, the project would go forward unless Mr Obama himself declared it was not in the national interest, which the president has now done, reviving intense reaction.

"This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people," Mr Obama said in a written statement. "I'm disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision."

Republicans hit back, with House of Representatives speaker John Boehner saying: "President Obama is destroying tens of thousands of American jobs and shipping American energy security to the Chinese. There's really just no other way to put it. The president is selling out American jobs for politics."

Newt Gingrich, campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in South Carolina, called Mr Obama's decision "stunningly stupid" and rival Mitt Romney said the decision was "as shocking as it is revealing. It shows a president who once again has put politics ahead of sound policy".

The State Department said the decision was made "without prejudice", meaning TransCanada can submit a new application once a new route is established. Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive, said the company planned to do exactly that. If approved, he said, the pipeline could begin operation as soon as 2014.

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