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Big Oil Attempts to End-Run Keystone XL with Congressional Approval

"Just once, we wish these Senators would break the trend and listen to the thousands upon thousands standing up against this pipeline, instead of the Big Oil benefactors lining their campaign war chests."

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The oil industry is planning an end-run around the President and State Department as they linger over the impending decision on whether to authorize the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by pushing for Big Oil friendly Congressional approval of the project.

Thousands gathered at the Forward on Climate rally on Feb. 17 2013 in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO) On Thursday, Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced a bill which authorizes Transcanada Corp. to construct the pipeline, opening up more than 800,000 barrels a day of heavily polluting tar sands oil.

The announcement of the bill reads:  "The senators’ bill would approve the 1,700-mile, high-tech project under Congress’s authority enumerated in the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8."

Reportedly, Hoeven last year secured an opinion from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) confirming Congress’s constitutional authority to approve the project.

According to Oil Change International, "the co-sponsors of this new bill have enjoyed massive contributions from the fossil fuel industry through their careers." According to their Dirty Energy Money database:

  • In total, the 14 Senators who have co-sponsored this bill have received nearly $10 MILLION in contributions from the fossil fuel industry, some $6.6 million of that from the oil industry alone.
  • On average, the 14 co-sponsors have received over $708,000 each from the fossil fuel industry in their career, over half of that from the oil industry.
  • Compared to the rest of the Senate, the co-sponsors of today’s pro-KeystoneXL bill have received 227% more in fossil fuel-related campaign contributions on average than their counterparts.

The list of Senators cosponsoring the bill includes Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) Mary Landrieu (D-La.), David Vitter (R-La.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

"Consistency is sometimes a trait to be admired," writes Oil Change's David Turnbull. "But just once, we wish these Senators would break the trend and listen to the thousands upon thousands standing up against this pipeline, instead of the Big Oil benefactors lining their campaign war chests."

This latest move follows a letter submitted in late January by 53 US Senators which urged fast-track approval of the pipeline project.

Since 2011, Congress has tried repeatedly to force the president's approval of the project. As Reuters reports:

In late 2011 Republicans inserted language in a payroll tax cut bill giving Obama a 60-day deadline to make a decision.

Obama ruled in early 2012 the administration needed more time to evaluate a revised route through Nebraska submitted by TransCanada to avoid sensitive ecological areas.

Keystone backers in Congress pushed to override Obama's call and approve the line themselves, but a vote last year in the Senate fell four votes short of passage.

Hoeven said this time the bill should pass because the previous vote was held before Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman approved TransCanada's revised path of the pipeline. Hoeven also said he believed he has enough votes to overturn an Obama veto should it reach that point.
 

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