LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Senate's top Republican said Friday he asked President-elect Donald Trump to move swiftly in approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has drawn strong opposition from environmentalists.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters 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 — things that he can do quickly on his own," McConnell said. "Because much of what President Obama did that slowed our economy he did on his own, either executive orders or regulations."
"So one of the ways to get this economy growing again, I think, is to deal with regulatory changes," McConnell added.
Trump touted the stalled Keystone project during a late October campaign swing through Florida, saying: "We're going to approve energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline and many more." He listed the project among his top priorities for the first 100 days of his administration, saying it could provide "a lot of jobs, a lot of good things."
McConnell said he's confident the new Trump presidency will "get off to a good start."
Obama rejected the proposed Keystone XL pipeline last November, declaring it would have undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal at the center of his environmental legacy. The 1,700-mile pipeline would carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Houston area, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.
The $7 billion pipeline has been a contentious issue. 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.
Obama's decision marked an unambiguous victory for environmental activists who spent years denouncing the pipeline, lobbying the administration and even chaining themselves to tractors to make their point about the threat posed by dirty fossil fuels. It also placed the president and fellow Democrats in direct confrontation with Republicans and energy advocates heading into the 2016 presidential election.
The president said he agreed with a State Department conclusion that Keystone wouldn't advance U.S. national interests. He lamented that both political parties had "overinflated" Keystone into a proxy battle for climate change but glossed over his own role in allowing the controversy to drag out over several national elections.
"This pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others," he said.
McConnell said Friday that Obama's opposition was "a bow to his extreme environmental supporters." The Kentucky senator used the widely disputed figure of 20,000 jobs to be created immediately from the pipeline.
In fact, the project's developer, Calgary-based TransCanada, has said the pipeline could create as many as 13,000 construction jobs — 6,500 a year over two years.
The State Department put the number of construction jobs at 3,900 on an annual basis. That figure doesn't include an estimated 4,000 workers that TransCanada says it has hired for a 485-mile southern segment of the pipeline already under construction and nearing completion.
The prospect of an all-Republican government next year boosts the chances for Keystone.
McConnell said Republican leaders are still sorting out priorities for next year, adding: "The American people expect us to pursue the agenda that we talked about, and I'm confident that's what we're going to do."
McConnell also said Friday he expects the next Congress to take up legislation to revamp the nation's tax system.
"I think he's very interested in tax reform," McConnell said of Trump. "My assumption is we'll deal with taxes in a comprehensive way in some kind of major tax reform bill sometime in the coming year."
Associated Press Writers Donna Cassata and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.