[imgcontainer right] [img:woodcut.jpeg] A woodcut depicting the New Madrid earthquakes 200 years ago during the winter of 1811 and 1812. Centered between what are now Memphis and St. Louis, the quake toppled chimney as far away as Maine and made the Mississippi River run backwards. The New Madrid area is still an active earthquake zone. [/imgcontainer]

President Barack Obama supports a payroll tax deal reached in Congress that includes a Republic provision that requires the administration to speed up a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead of quickening construction of the project, however, the bill will most likely end with the administration turning down the Keystone project.

The New York Times story is here. The Washington Post story is here. The Wall Street Journal is here

The Keystone XL pipeline will carry oil sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Since it crosses an international boundary it requires a permit from the U.S. State Department. The State Department delayed a final decision recently after Nebraska ranchers and politicians objected to the route Keystone would take through environmentally sensitive portions of the state. 

The Obama administration was also under heavy pressure from national environmentalists, who contend opening the oil sands for development will speed global warming.

Republicans tied a reduction in the payroll tax, which President Obama wanted, to the Keystone pipeline. The bill is a makeshift affair, extending the tax cut only two months and including a requirement that the Obama administration make a decision on the pipeline permit within 60 days. The bill, Reuters explains

falls short of Obama’s original push for a full-year extension and also runs counter to an earlier White House demand that there be no link to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The official made clear, however, that Obama had been more concerned about the economic damage to an already fragile economic recovery if tens of millions of families faced higher taxes with the coming of the new year.

The administration considers the Republicans’ insistence on tying the pipeline review to the tax deal to be counterproductive to their own effort to get the $7 billion project fast-tracked as a potential jobs creator, the official said.

Obama stands by the State Department’s warning on Monday that a Republican effort to limit the pipeline review to 60 days would violate environmental laws and force it to withhold approval, the senior official said.

• This is the 200 year anniversary of the incredible Na Madrid quakes, centered in a 150-mile stretch between Memphis and St Louis. 

Every couple of centuries — 1450 A.D., 900 A.D., 300 A.D., that we know of — the land there is roiled. The first quake hit on December 16, 1811. Others followed on January 23 and February 7. They were among the strongest in our history, ranging from 7.7 to 8.1. The soil liquefied, the ground rolled, sulfurous gas shot up from the ground and eyewitnesses say the Mississippi River appeared to run backwards (an event alluded to in the Uncle Tupelo song “New Madrid”). The quakes rattled church bells in Boston and toppled chimneys in Maine.

Trouble is, the New Madrid zone is still active. And since the last quake, we have built 15 nuclear power plants in the quake region.

• We’re buying fewer Christmas trees

About 40 percent of U.S. households bought live trees in 1991, but last year only 23 percent of households brought a live (or formerly live) tree into the house. Sales have dropped from 37 million trees to 27 million in 2009.

People have just gotten out of the habit, or, more correctly, the tradition. Consumers will spend slightly more on artificial trees than real ones — $1.01 billion compared to $984 million.

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