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Alberta Premier Alison Redford leaves a news conference in Vancouver on Nov. 5, 2013.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Keystone XL is vital to North American energy security and President Barack Obama "most certainly understands the importance of energy security," Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu said Tuesday after meeting with Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

But neither Ms. Landrieu, who said she had twice pressed the President in the last few months about approving Keystone XL, nor Ms. Redford, who was making yet another lobbying visit to Washington, could offer any hint as to when the President might decide the fate of the controversial pipeline.

"It should have been approved years ago," said Ms. Landrieu, a Democrat and powerful backer of the pipeline that will funnel Alberta-oil sands crude to refineries in her state of Louisiana.

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Ms. Landrieu's brief meeting with the Alberta Premier was arranged after another Democrat senator, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, was delayed returning to Washington by winter storms.

At a meeting with Tuesday evening after Ms. Heitkamp returned to Washington, the North Dakota senator said: "Premier Redford and I had a very productive discussion about how we can continue working on policies in Canada and the U.S. to help us become North American energy independent."

Like Ms. Heitkamp – who wants Keystone XL to get her state's burgeoning production from the Bakken oil fields to market – Ms. Landrieu says she believes there are sufficient votes in Congress to pass legislation approving the pipeline.

But the decision-making process currently rests with the President, who has repeatedly delayed deciding the fate of Keystone XL.

"The Keystone pipeline decision has taken longer than it took us to defeat Hitler," Ms. Heitkamp said earlier this year. "It's not about the pipeline itself. What it's really about is the development of oil sands up in Canada."

On that, if nothing else, both the pipeline's backers and its detractors mostly agree. Keystone XL would get Alberta's landlocked and heavily discounted oil to market and thus generate the revenue to spur expansion.

Ms. Redford said "Keystone matters an awful lot to our economy."

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Meanwhile, anti-Keystone XL activists launched two new attacks on the controversial, long-delayed project to funnel upwards of one million barrels of Alberta's heavy oil-sands crude to refineries close to Texas and Louisiana ports.

In an open letter to the Obama administration, Canadian opponents claimed Keystone XL poses grave human health consequences and will add to global warming.

"Air pollution kills about 20,000 Canadians a year and with tar-sands expansion, it will only get worse," said Gideon Forman, Executive Director of Canadian Physicians for the Environment. "If we care about our health, we need to leave tar-sands oil in the ground."

As with much of the opposition to Keystone XL, the health argument presumes that the pipeline will drive a massive expansion of Alberta vast oil-sands reserves by ending the steep discount to world prices the carbon-heavy crude suffers and thus providing the funds to fuel further developments.

A "tripling of tar sands production, contingent on the approval and construction of pipelines like Keystone XL, would result in a 230 per cent increase in nitrogen oxides pollution, a 160 per cent increase in sulphur-dioxide emissions and a 190 per cent increase in particulate matter," said the letter to U.S. State Secretary John Kerry. The State Department is expected to release its Final Environmental Impact Statement soon, but the Keystone XL decision will be made in the Oval Office.

"The President must say 'no' to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline if he is serious about taking action on climate change," said Ben West of ForestEthics Advocacy, another of the signatories on the letter. "The wrong decision could lock both Canada and the U.S. into a future you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy," he added.

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In a statement accompanying the letter, the groups also said: "The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a lynchpin for the expansion of an industrial project that is devastating Northern Alberta and standing between Canada and its climate promises."

In Texas, anti-Keystone XL activists, including at least one rancher, urged Mr. Obama to block the planned opening of the just-completed southern section of the pipeline. Concerns over shoddy construction and scores of sections being dug up and re-welded means the "the government should investigate, and shouldn't let crude flow until that is done," said Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen's Texas office. "Given the stakes – the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities – it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating."

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