by Todd Neeley DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) — In the first stretch of what is expected to be a short Congressional race to launch the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill to force the Obama administration's hand on the TransCanada project. Though there is a move in the U.S. Senate to pass similar legislation, the president has indicated he may veto any Keystone bill.
The House passed the measure largely on party lines, 252-161, with 31 Democrats voting for the measure. This was the ninth time the House has passed a bill approving the pipeline. A group of Republicans in the Senate on Thursday asked the president in a letter whether the move by Democrats to vote on a bill during the lame duck session was a serious attempt to approve the project. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has been pushing for a vote ahead of a December runoff election against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, drawing criticism that her push is purely political.
Even if the House and Senate pass a bill that is sent to the president's desk, the project's route remains in limbo. The Nebraska Supreme Court is expected to render a decision on a legal case challenging a state law that allowed Nebraska's governor to approve the project. A number of environmental activists and some farmers and ranchers in the Nebraska Sandhills have stood against the project for fear that a pipeline could damage fragile farm and ranch lands.
The House approved legislation authored by Cassidy and drafted using language requested by the Senate as a way to move the bill along more quickly. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week. In a statement earlier this week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said the Senate has a chance to take action.
“Now, more than six years after the permit to construct Keystone was originally filed, Congress has another shot to get the pipeline built,” the committee said. “With a commitment from the Senate to move Cassidy's legislation, we look to send a bill to the president's desk and get folks back to work.”
The House has taken eight other votes on Keystone, on July 26, 2011; Dec. 13, 2011; Dec. 23, 2011; Feb. 16, 2012; April 18, 2012; May 18, 2012; May 22, 2013; and Sept. 18, 2014.
House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement Thursday that the Senate would pass a similar bill that the project's approval is in the president's hands.
“The president is the only one standing in the way of the Keystone XL pipeline and 40,000 new energy jobs,” Smith said. “After six long years of thorough review — including hearings held by the House Science Committee — we know that this pipeline will enhance our energy independence with minimal impact to the environment.”
A number of environmental and landowner groups, including Bold Nebraska, called on the president to veto any Keystone legislation in light of recent concerns about climate issues with the project.
“This Congress has taken vote after vote to appease corporate polluters by attacking clean air, clean water, and action to tackle the climate crisis,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “This latest push for the dirty Keystone XL pipeline is no different. The bottom line is the decision whether or not to approve the pipeline rests solely with President Obama, who has repeatedly said he will reject it if it contributes significantly to climate pollution. There is no question that it will, so we remain confident that he will reject this pipeline and these attacks on long-standing executive powers.”
Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska said federal lawmakers' actions are not taking the concerns of landowners and others into consideration.
“The House of Representatives just voted to take away property rights with their vote for Keystone XL,” she said in a statement. “TransCanada uses eminent domain for private gain while they threaten landowners up and down the route. Farmers and ranchers along with native allies will continue to stand up for land and water, and a political vote for big oil will not change this basic fact.”
Paul Seamans, a Dakota Rural Action member whose land the proposed pipeline would cross, said he will continue to challenge the state of South Dakota on the project.
“South Dakota's Public Utilities Commission has just started the hearing process at which Dakota Rural Action and our native allies will contest the need for the Keystone XL pipeline, and Nebraska has a lawsuit in their supreme court in which landowners are contesting the proposed KXL route,” he said in a statement.
American Petroleum Institute President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Gerard said in a statement that the president should sign legislation that comes to his desk.
“President Obama can demonstrate leadership when it comes to creating jobs by signing this bill,” he said. “This is a vote for American workers, including those in the labor community who have long called for the president's support.”
Shawn Howard, team lead, issues management and media relations for TransCanada, said public opinion polls have showed consistent support for what he said will not be an export pipeline.
“This is about a pipeline and whether or not it is needed and in America's national interest,” Howard said in a statement. “American refineries need the oil that we will transport — from both Canadian and American oil fields — to create products that we all rely on. This is about whether or not Keystone XL can be built and operated safely, if it provides a product to American refineries in an environmentally responsible way, if it helps enhance American energy security and how the taxes it will generate help communities along the right-of-way.
“No other pipeline has been scrutinized as carefully as Keystone XL, and it has met every environmental, economic, safety and supply test that has been put in front of it. It makes no business sense for our customers to transport oil down to the U.S. Gulf Coast, pay to export it overseas but then pay to transport millions of barrels of higher-priced oil back to the U.S. refineries to create the products we rely on.”
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