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Vice-President Joe Biden looks on as President Barack Obama shakes hands with Senator John Kerry, nominated Friday for the job of secretary of state, replacing Hillary Clinton.Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press

President Barack Obama nominated Senator John Kerry as his secretary of state Friday, raising new hopes among environmentalists that the administration will reject TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline.

The Massachusetts Democrat – who will replace a retiring Hillary Clinton – led a losing battle in Congress for aggressive climate-change legislation and has been an outspoken advocate on the environment.

His appointment is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate.

"He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training," Mr. Obama said, standing alongside Mr. Kerry at the White House. "Few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers or grasp our policies as firmly as John Kerry."

Mr. Obama turned to Mr. Kerry after his previous front-runner for the job, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, withdrew her name for consideration as she drew fire for her role in the administration's handling of the killing of U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

The veteran senator is a decorated Vietnam veteran and narrowly lost a bid for the presidency against the incumbent, George W. Bush, in 2004.

Mr. Kerry has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations committee and been sent on a number of foreign missions by Mr. Obama, including a trip in which he sought to reduce tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As the nation's top diplomat, Mr. Kerry will be tasked with not only executing the President's foreign-policy objectives, but also shaping Mr. Obama's approach. The senator offered some insight into his world view on Thursday during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing he chaired on the deadly September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Mr. Kerry called on Congress to put enough money into America's foreign-policy objectives and said doing so is an investment "in our long-term security and more often than not it saves far more expensive expenditures in dollars and lives for the conflicts that we failed to see or avoid."

Mr. Kerry's relationship with the Harper government faces a critical test early in 2013 when he must make a recommendation to Mr. Obama on whether to appove the Keystone XL pipeline.

The State Department is finalizing a new environmental impact statement on the controversial project, which would carry crude from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The State Department has authority over the pipeline permitting because it crosses an international boundary. It will make a recommendation to Mr. Obama, who is expected to make a decision on the permit early next year.

Mr. Obama rejected an earlier application after Nebraska demanded the Keystone XL line be rerouted to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sands Hills region.

TransCanada submitted a new route, which has received a positive review by the state environmental department and is now awaiting approval by Governor Dave Heineman.

The Harper government has been lobbying heavily to win U.S. approval for the Keystone project, which it considers to be a critical piece of infrastructure that will allow Alberta crude to reach new markets and provide a secure supply of oil for the American consumers.

Lack of sufficient pipeline capacity has driven down the price of oil sands crude, dramatically reducing revenue not only for the industry but for the provincial and federal governments.

Environmental groups opposing the project welcomed the appointment of Mr. Kerry on Friday.

"He understands the urgency of tackling climate change and I think that is going to be a problem for the pipeline," said Jeremy Symons, senior vice-president with the National Wildlife Federation in Washington.

In a previous environmental impact statement, the State Department concluded the Keystone XL pipeline would not contribute to higher greenhouse-gas emissions because the oil-sands producers would find alternate means of getting their bitumen to market.

Mr. Symons said that conclusion is wrong and that it is now apparent that limiting pipeline capacity will reduce new investment and put a brake of growth in the oil sands.

Former State Department official, David Goldwyn, said Mr. Kerry elevates the priority of climate-change action in dealings with foreign governments.

But Mr. Goldwyn – formerly the department's top international energy expert – said the previous environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline has already concluded the project will not have an impact on greenhouse-gas emissions.

"It is very doubtful that will change," he said.

TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling said he is not concerned about the changing of the guard at the State Department.

"I think the process is an objective process … [and] at the end of the day whoever has the job will get all the facts," he said in an interview this week.

"Anybody who looks objectively at those facts … they're going to come to exactly the same conclusion."

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