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Keystone pipeline politics 'nuts': Ex-oil chief

Approving the long-stalled northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. is a "no-brainer in terms of the overall economic health" of the nation, John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil, said Tuesday on CNBC, in a strongly worded rebuke of the Obama administration.

"I think it's nuts in the way this political process is playing out. I get very irritated at the nonsense," said Hofmeister, founder and now CEO of the advocacy group Citizens for Affordable Energy. "We could be employing people, we could be building the infrastructure of the country and taking care of our energy security needs in decades ahead."

(Read more: U.S. Republicans seek Keystone approval; foes vow to risk arrest)

President Barack Obama will have the final say on whether to allow TransCanada's pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, which was first proposed in 2008. The northern portion would link up to the southern leg from Oklahoma to Texas, which opened in January—enabling the flow of as much as 830,000 barrels per day of Canadian oil sands crude to U.S. Gulf Coast refiners.

The State Department concluded last month that the $5.4 billion northern part of the pipeline will not unduly worsen climate change. Environmentalist have challenged that assertion. Now eight different U.S. federal agencies will have a chance to weigh in over the next three months.

An exasperated Hofmeister said he can't see why the White House won't act, when a majority of lawmakers in both the House and Senate support it. "Pipelines are part of the infrastructure that the president has been pushing for five years."

Hofmeister also said that approval of the pipeline would send positive messages about how the U.S. and Canada can collaborate on North American energy production and "how we supply ourselves 20, 30, 40 years into the future."

—By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC. Reuters contributed to this article.

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