House bill would route Keystone pipeline around Obama

March 15, 2013 11:07 AM

U.S. House Republicans won’t wait for President Barack Obama to issue a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. They plan to vote by the end of May on legislation that would sidestep the White House and offer congressional approval to the TransCanada Corp. project.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton said today that the bill would be on the House floor by Memorial Day.

The measure sponsored by Nebraska Republican Lee Terry is being designated H.R. 3, using one of the numbers held in reserve by Republican leadership for their top-priority bills.

“There is no reason for us to not only refine that oil, but also to keep most of it in the U.S.,” Upton, a Michigan Republican, told a press conference.

The project would cross six states and link the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to Texas refineries along the Gulf Coast. It requires a presidential permit because it crosses an international border.

In January 2012 the Obama administration rejected a proposed route for the pipeline after concerns were raised about the impact of the project on an ecologically sensitive area in Nebraska. The route now under consideration was submitted in May 2012.

‘Political Statement’

Earlier this month, a State Department environmental assessment of found Keystone XL won’t worsen the risks of global warming because Alberta’s oil sands would be developed without the pipeline. The White House signaled today that it doesn’t consider oil pipelines a major driver of climate change.

“There have been thousands of miles of pipelines that have been built while President Obama has been in office,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters today on Air Force One as Obama traveled to deliver a speech on energy in Illinois. “It hasn’t necessarily had a significant impact one way or the other on addressing climate change.”

Obama is focusing efforts on lessening dependence on fossil fuels, he said. He said the higher fuel standards for vehicles set by the administration “has greatly increased fuel efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.’

Representative Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill won’t change that and a decision on the pipeline would ultimately be made by Obama. The president will decide to either approve or reject the pipeline, said Waxman, who opposes the project, and could veto any legislation that would force his hand.

‘‘They’re making a political statement,” Waxman said in an interview.

Pipeline Backers

Backers of the pipeline say that Congress has the authority to effectively deem the pipeline approved without Obama’s action. Previously, they hit dead ends when they pushed measures that tried to force him to make an early decision and that would have required the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve it.

Obama told Republican senators earlier this week he planned to make a decision on the revised application by the end of the year, said Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, a sponsor of the bill’s Senate version, S. 582, which was introduced yesterday.

“When he makes that decision, what’s it going to be, another regulatory hurdle to jump over?” Hoeven said.

The State Department released an environmental assessment report March 1 saying the pipeline would have little impact on the pace of oil-sands development expansion.

Bloomberg News

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