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Democrats grapple with dilemma on Keystone XL pipeline

Associated Press

WASHINGTON: Democrats are grappling with an election-year dilemma posed by the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Wealthy party donors are funding candidates who oppose the project — a high-profile symbol of the political debate over climate change. But some of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents are pipeline boosters, and whether Democrats retain control of the Senate after the 2014 midterm elections may hinge on them.

The dilemma was highlighted Wednesday as President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser — now a consultant to the oil industry — said Obama should approve the pipeline to send Russian President Vladimir Putin a message that “international bullies” can’t use energy security as a weapon.

The comments by retired Gen. James Jones came as a top Democratic donor again urged that the pipeline be rejected.

Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist, has vowed to spend $100 million —$50 million of his own money and $50 million from other donors — to make climate change a top-tier issue in the 2014 elections.

Steyer, who opposes Keystone, declined to say whether he would contribute to Democrats who support the pipeline, including Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and John Walsh of Montana. All face strong challenges from Republicans in energy-producing states where Obama lost to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Still, a spokesman said Steyer believes Democratic control of the Senate is important from a climate perspective.

Jones told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Canada-to-Texas pipeline is a litmus test of whether the United States is serious about national and global energy security.