By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The energy security benefits of a proposed pipeline that would transport Canadian crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast outweigh the environmental concerns about the project, a former official at the agency that will decide the fate of the pipeline said on Thursday.
David Goldwyn, who recently served as special envoy for international energy affairs at the State Department, said approving TransCanada Corp's $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline is in the best interest of the United States and will make the nation less dependent on hostile regimes.
"The permitting of this pipeline dramatically enhances U.S. national (security) and energy security," Goldwyn, who left the department in January, told lawmakers at a House Foreign Affairs committee hearing on the importance of Canadian oil.
"We don't often get a chance to pick where our oil rents go, but in this case we do and we get to choose Canada," he said.
Goldwyn's comments follow U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement on Wednesday that his administration hopes to cut U.S. oil imports by a third over 10 years.
Still, Obama listed Canada, the largest supplier of oil to the United States, as a key partner U.S. energy security.
Earlier this month, the State Department dealt a blow to the Keystone pipeline when it ordered an additional environmental review of the project, possibly further delaying its start up date.
Republican lawmakers have accused the Obama administration of needlessly holding up the project, which has encountered major opposition from green groups concerned about high carbon emissions from Canadian oil sands and landowners worried about pipeline safety.
But Goldwyn defended the department and its decision-making process regarding the pipeline, saying the department is required by law to do environmental analysis and consider public input before making a final decision.
"It's not obstruction. It's an abundance of caution," Goldwyn said. "I think the State Department is being as deliberate as it can to make sure when it comes to a decision it's beyond reproach."
He said the environmental concerns about the pipeline have merit, but the pipeline has been studied extensively and changes made due to public input have made the project safer.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)