Republicans move to revive Keystone XL pipeline

Republican lawmakers are working to strip President Barack Obama of his authority to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline in a last ditch effort to bring Canadian oil to the U.S.

“What irritates me and a lot of people concerned about the economy is the president made a political decision to throw away 25,000 jobs,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (La.).

After 40 months of reviews, studies and delays by the Obama administration that came under increasing pressure by the environmental community to stop the project, the president on Jan. 18 denied TransCanada its needed permit, saying the State Department needed more time to review the pipeline’s route.

“We fought WWII in less time than it’s taken to evaluate this project,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). “This is an insult to the American people to say you need more time.”

The lawmakers made those comments during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing last week on proposed legislation authored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), who says Obama is making needless excuses to delay the project past the presidential election to appease his supporters.

The Wednesday hearing was briefly disrupted after Democrats accused Republicans of supporting the project to benefit campaign contributors. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) called the hearing a “fishing expedition to help industry get what they want and the American public be damned in the process.”

Republicans fired back, citing recently published reports that indicate killing the pipeline would be financially beneficial to billionaire Warren Buffett, a strong supporter of President Obama. Buffett’s holdings include Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC, the railroad company that would transport oil through the region in the absence of the new pipeline.

Any mention of the Keystone Pipeline was noticeably absent from Obama’s State of the Union Address on Jan. 24, which also drew criticism from Republicans.

“If the president is serious about creating high-paying jobs and getting this economy moving again, he will focus his efforts on cutting the burdensome regulations that are hampering our economy and stopping energy production and domestic manufacturing throughout America and put Americans to work,” said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

Added Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.): “I agree with the president that we should increase American energy production, but this administration’s defining energy policy decisions have been taxpayer-funded subsidies for pet renewable projects like Solyndra and the rejection of the Keystone Pipeline. That’s not going to cut it. He will need to do better than campaign speeches to make America competitive globally and increase our energy security.”

Terry’s bill, the North American Energy Access Act, would shift authority for the permitting process from Obama and Hillary Clinton’s State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Clinton was invited to testify at the hearing, but declined to attend.

Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of State at the department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs, appeared in Clinton’s stead. It’s that agency’s responsibility to make the recommendation to the president to approve or reject the project, and the president is only supposed to discard a proposal that does not serve the national interest.

Jones told the panel that Obama did not exert any influence in the State Department’s decision to recommend the project be rejected.

“That decision was based on the fact that the exact route of the pipeline has yet to be identified in critical areas,” Jones said. “As a result, there are unresolved concerns for a full range of issues, including energy security, foreign policy, economic effects, health, safety, and environmental impacts, among other considerations.”

Terry’s bill, Jones said, would not resolve any of their lingering concerns and would instead create unrealistic time constraints and produce an automatic mandate.

“The legislation raises serious questions about existing legal authorities, questions the continuing force of much of the federal and all of the state and local environmental and land use management authority over the pipeline, and overrides foreign policy and national security considerations implicated by a cross border permit, which are properly assessed by the State Department,” Jones said.

But lawmakers said new options are obviously needed to ensure a more timely review of this and future pipeline projects.

“Canada is rapidly increasing its oil production, and if the U.S. foolishly refuses to be a customer for these new supplies, Canada will build a pipeline to the Pacific coast and the oil will be exported to China and other overseas buyers,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R. –MI), committee chairman.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chaired the hearing, said Obama’s decision is unacceptable and needs to be corrected.

“The phrase ‘national interest’ should be somewhat simple to understand,” Whitfield said. “If the nation is plagued by persistent unemployment and a private company is willing to spend $7 billion to construct an infrastructure project, putting (thousands of) people to work – that sounds like something that serves the national interest.”

Republicans are considering several options to move this or other legislation to push Keystone through what has been an obstructionist session of Congress, and may attach it as a rider to other must-have measures supported by Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Politico he would consider any “reasonable proposals” but that he does not consider the Keystone Pipeline to be reasonable.

“If we want to wean ourselves from foreign oil, why would we allow a pipeline to be built for 1,700 miles to manufacture petroleum products to be shipped overseas?” Reid said. “That’s the purpose of this.”

Republicans say that with two million miles of pipelines already crisscrossing the U.S., Reid’s argument is worthless.

Reid already faces opposition from within his own ranks led by Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Baucus says he is rounding up support from his fellow Democrats to bring new backing for the pipeline.

“It’s time to move forward on the jobs and energy security our nation deserves, and I’ll keep fighting tooth and nail until that happens,” Baucus said.