Obama's support of the Keystone Pipeline isn't exactly a monumental change in policy, but rather, it's one part of his strategy to curb the conversation on rising gas prices--gas prices which are dragging down his approval ratings.  Back in January, if you recall, Obama opposed and denied the Keystone Pipeline proposal--a plan to transport crude oil from Alberta Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Opponents of the plan cited environmental concerns, while Republicans cited Obama's disregard for the creation of new jobs and attacked his policy in the criticisms they leveled on the president. 

So why the change of heart if this same, if this is the same maybe-evil pipeline from January? Well for starters, it's the Southern portion of the pipleline, and as his Republican critics have said, it's mostly a political posturing opportunity since the process would've started without an Obama approval. BusinessWeek reported that Obama's approval isn't going to speed the process which would ultimately allow crude oil (which is currently in a bottleneck in Cushing) to flow to Texas' refineries--it won't be operational until 2013. 

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But Obama's brief speech (around 12 minutes) in Cushing today did allow him to explain his quasi walk-back--blaming it on timing, Congress members (though he didn't say it, we're guessing he means Republican Congress members) who "thought it might be a fun political issue" and his environmental concerns in Nebraska. And perhaps most importantly, it allowed him another chance to change the currently-damaging conversation about gas prices in America--it's been the focus of his current trip

"The main reason the gas prices are so high right now is that everyone's worried with what's happening with Iran," says Obama explaining how tensions in the Middle East affect the global economy, before explaining how his now-familiar talking points (fuel standards, lack of dependency on foreign oil, family savings) are solutions to everyone's (and his) gas price problems.

 

Update: 11:33 a.m.- President Obama's speech has ended. If you're wondering, no, no one fainted in Cushing today.

Update 11:30 a.m.- The president mentions his magic number--$8,000--again.  It's the amount of money that a family, under new fuel standards set by the Obama administration, will save on cars.  And it's become a prominent talking point in the president's conversation about energy efficiency. 

Update 11:28 a.m.- "The main reason the gas prices are so high right now is that everyone's worried with what's happening with Iran," says Obama explaining how tensions in the middle east affect the global economy.

Update 11:26 a.m.- "Unfortunately Congress wanted their own timeline ... members of Congress thought this might be a fun political issue," says Obama, giving his take on his previous denial of the Keystone pipeline.

Update 11:24 a.m.-"Today I'm directing my administration to cut through the red tape ..."

Update: 10:55 a.m.- Obama is running a little bit late, but looking at the backdrop (via CNN's Brianna Keilar; right, below) it's very clear what he's going to be talking about today.

 

Original:

 President Obama spoke in the oil town of Cushing, Oklahoma today, and announced that his administration will expedite the permit for the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Back in January, if you recall, Obama had denied a permit for the Canadian portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, and as CNN notes, the decision was met with Republican criticism. Of late, Republicans have hammered away at the country's rising gas prices and as The Washington Post reported, the president's approval ratings have suffered because of it.

Today, as CNN reports, the president is expected to endorse the southern portion of the pipeline today, which definitely sounds like part of his broader strategy to reclaim the conversation on gas prices. But as Bloomberg BusinessWeek notes, Republicans see it as "political window dressing."  Speaker John Boehner's spokesman told CNN:

“This is like a governor personally issuing a fishing license,” Brendan Buck said. “There is only a minor, routine permit needed for this leg of the project. Only a desperate administration would inject the President of the United States into this trivial matter. The President’s attempt to take credit for a pipeline he blocked and personally lobbied Congress against is staggering in its dis-ingenuousness. This portion of the pipeline is being built in spite of the President, not because of him.” 

We'll keep this post updated with reactions as the news unfolds: