Metro

Brown, Warren on opposite sides of oil pipeline debate

The oil pipeline issue that is consuming Washington this afternoon illustrates an interesting political contrast in the US Senate race in Massachusetts between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner is insisting that a bill to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits also include a provision that could speed federal approval for an oil pipeline from Northern Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

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Backers say it willcreate thousands of jobs and reduce US dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Opponents say it will increase dependence on oil overall, and hurt the environment.

Obama, with backing from fellow Democrats in the Senate, opposes the House measure, which would force a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days. His administration has delayed approval until 2013.

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Warren’s campaign spokesman, Kyle Sullivan, said today that she opposes the pipeline, because of concerns about safety and environmental impacts. But the topic is a difficult one for Warren politically in that it pits groups that support her against each other.

State Republicans sent out a press release today on the subject, hoping it drives a wedge between Warren’s strong union supporters -- who want a pipeline -- and the environmental groups who support her campaign.

On the other side, Brown supports the pipeline, his office said today.

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“Senator Brown believes the project will create jobs and puts us on a path to energy independence,” spokeswoman Marcie Kinzel said.

That position also carries some risk for Brown however. Environmental groups have spent millions of dollars trying to paint Brown as a tool of big oil, including running one commercial that shows a Brown lookalike with oil-stained hands.

But the senator’s position could also help him him build the case that he is reaching across the aisle. Kinzel said today that, although Brown supports the pipeline, he would not insist on it as a condition before voting to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, the source of the congressional log jam.

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.
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