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Support slips but most still in favor of Keystone pipeline: poll

(Reuters) - A majority of voters still support the controversial Canada-to-Texas oil sands pipeline as the Obama administration again weighs whether to approve or scrap the project, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

Rasmussen Reports, a public opinion research company, found that 53 percent of likely U.S. voters at least somewhat favored moving ahead with TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, down from 60 percent approval in mid-November, according to the survey.

Congress last week passed legislation requiring President Obama to approve or deny a permit for the project by late February, as part of a deal to end a standoff and extend the payroll tax cut.

The Obama administration, after facing stiff opposition from green groups, announced in November that it would seek a new route for the pipeline, effectively pushing any decision on the project past the 2012 election.

The delay pleased environmentalists who dislike carbon emissions from processing oil sands in the western Canadian province of Alberta. Ranchers and other citizens also worried about spills along the pipeline, especially in the fragile Sandhills region of Nebraska.

Republicans pushed for a decision, saying the project would create jobs and improve energy security.

The Rasmussen telephone survey of 1,000 likely voters nationwide showed that more than 70 percent of Republicans still support the Keystone pipeline, with Tea Party members overwhelmingly in favor of building it. But unaffiliated voters backing the project fell from 61 percent in November to 49 percent in the latest survey.

At the time of the first survey, only about 60 percent of surveyed voters were following the pipeline issue at least somewhat closely. In the second, Rasmussen found that about 80 percent were following the payroll tax cut debate, which included the Keystone issue.

Rasmussen said the latest survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The State Department has authority over the final permit because the pipeline would cross the national border. Although Congress forced Obama to decide on the pipeline more quickly, he could delay it again or kill the project if he determines it is not in the national interest.

(Reporting By Emily Stephenson; editing by Jim Marshall)

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