Senate says it has power to circumvent Obama on Keystone pipeline

Senate Republicans say they have the congressional authority to circumvent President Barack Obama and give the green light to begin construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Nearly half of the Senate, 44 lawmakers, signed on to legislation Monday to authorize TransCanada to begin work on the pipeline that would stretch from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast and transport 830,000 barrels of oil a day to U.S. refineries.

The lawmakers say they have that authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, and cited an opinion from the Congressional Research Service confirming their authority to approve the project.

“The president said recently that he was for an all-of-the-above approach to energy, yet he rejected the one bipartisan energy project that is shovel-ready and can produce thousands of new jobs almost immediately – the Keystone XL Pipeline,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. –KY). “While it’s clear that the president was appealing to his liberal environmental base when he blocked Keystone, this legislation would move us towards the creation of thousands of jobs and energy security for our nation.”

The project has undergone rigorous environmental analysis for three years and the final decision by Obama and his State Department was scheduled for December. When the administration tried to again delay a decision until after the November election this year, Congress forced their hand to deliver a verdict before March and Obama responded by killing the project outright.

Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota, Richard Lugar of Indiana and David Vitter of Louisiana authored the Senate bill.  Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the sole Democrat cosponsoring the measure.

“It will create thousands of jobs, help control fuel prices at the pump and reduce our reliance on Middle East oil and it can be accomplished with congressional authority, just as the Alaska Pipeline was nearly 40 years ago,” Hoeven said.

Added Sen. Lugar:  “The President has failed to lead but we will not stop trying to complete this critical supply line.”

House Republicans are planning to add language that would advance the pipeline project to a transportation bill already moving through that chamber. With Democrats controlling the Senate, Republicans there are also expected to use similar tactics to move their legislation forward. There is no word from the White House on whether Obama will veto any bill that contains a measure to approve the pipeline.