Environmentalists and the oil industry are fine-tuning their talking points ahead of a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing later Monday on a proposed pipeline that would carry Canadian oil sands from Alberta to refineries in Texas.
Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) and other Republicans on the panel are pushing a draft bill that would require President Obama to make a decision on the pipeline, known as Keystone XL, by Nov. 1. The committee will hold a hearing on the bill Monday afternoon.
The pipeline, which is undergoing a multi-agency review headed up by the State Department, has long drawn the ire of the environmental community and the praise of the oil industry.
The American Petroleum Institute, the country’s most powerful oil industry trade association, said Monday that approval of the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and ensure the country’s energy security.
“The Keystone XL pipeline has undergone extensive analysis and review over the last two years, and it is time to focus efforts on creating jobs and strengthening our relationship with America’s No. 1 source of imported oil: Canada,” API Executive Vice President Marty Durbin said in a statement, calling the Republican draft bill “an important driver of U.S. economic growth and job creation.”
But environmental groups slammed the legislation, arguing that the Obama administration must be allowed to complete a thorough review of the pipeline project before making a final decision.
Jeremy Symons, a senior vice president at the National Wildlife Federation, is the only witness slated to testify at the hearing, which is likely to offer major criticism of TransCanada’s Keystone XL project.
Symons, according to written testimony filed to the committee, will argue that imposing a Nov. 1 deadline on the administration to make a decision on the pipeline could force officials to gloss over the potential threat of oil pipeline spills.
“The arbitrary deadline suggested in the legislation also short-circuits the administration’s ability to investigate and consider safety lessons that can be learned from several catastrophic ruptures of tar sludge pipelines that have occurred since Transcanada submitted its [Keystone XL] application,” Symons says in his written testimony, pointing to recent pipeline spills in Alberta and Michigan.
“These recent spills are clear warnings that America’s outdated pipeline safety laws are not prepared for the highly corrosive and toxic tar sludge that is proposed to be pressurized and sped through 2,000 miles of [the Keystone XL] pipeline, crossing some of America’s most important sources of clean water,” Symons says.
Symons will also attempt to counter Republican arguments that the pipeline will offer huge benefits to the United States at a time of economic uncertainty.
“[T]he Keystone XL pipeline scheme opens the Canada-to-China oil route that oil companies have long sought,” Symons says in his written testimony. “The pipeline will take Canadian oil that is already flowing to America away from U.S. refineries in the Midwest and send it instead to foreign-owned refineries on the Gulf Coast for export.”
Meanwhile, expect lawmakers on the committee to spar over who might benefit from approval of the pipeline.
Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, said late last week that the Koch brothers — the owners of a Kansas-based refining company that have been major contributors to a slew of Republican causes — could benefit from the Keystone XL project. Though Koch Industries has no interest in the Keystone XL project, Waxman suggested Friday that the company has a stake in the Canadian oil sands industry.
Koch and Republicans have dismissed Waxman’s comments as pure politics.
If Waxman focuses on the issue at the hearing, Republicans are prepared to counter that George Soros, the liberal businessman and enemy of many on the right, could actually benefit from the approval of the pipeline, one source with ties to the committee says. Soros, the source notes, owns a large amount of stock in a company that is a major miner of Canadian oil sands.