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GOP Refuse to Let Keystone XL Die

Republican bills in the Senate and House aim to legislate around Obama administration's decision on tar sands pipeline

Common Dreams staff

A group of demonstrators rally against the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline outside President Obama's fundraiser at the W Hotel in San Francisco, October 25, 2011. (Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam)

Republican legislators in Washington refuse to let the proposed Keystone XL pipeline die a quick or quiet death. 

Reuters reports:

A group of 44 senators, all but one Republican, have signed on to proposed legislation that would authorize the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline despite the refusal of President Barack Obama to advance the project.

Republican Senator John Hoeven is set to introduce the bill on Monday that, if passed into law, would allow work to begin immediately on all but the sensitive Nebraska portion of TransCanada's $7 billion controversial project.

It's not yet clear how the bill will advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the lone Democrat to sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill, but other Democratic senators have in the past expressed support for the project.

Obama put the pipeline on the backburner earlier in January, saying the administration needed more time to review the environmental impact in Nebraska, where the state government is evaluating a new route after rejecting an initial plan that sent the line through a sensitive aquifer region.

The bill, led by Hoeven, Richard Lugar and David Vitter, incorporates an environmental review done by the U.S. State Department, and allows Nebraska time to find a new route.

In response to the Senate move, the Center for Biological Diversity released the following statement, blasting the Republicans continued pursuit of the project:

“President Obama made the right decision when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Noah Greenwald at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Republicans in Congress need to stop wasting precious time doing the bidding of Big Oil and address the climate crisis and create long-term jobs in a new, clean energy economy.”

Keystone XL would transport dirty tar-sands oil 1,700 miles across six states and hundreds of water bodies, posing an unacceptable risk of spill. An existing pipeline called Keystone 1 has already leaked 14 times since it started operating in June 2010, including one spill that dumped 21,000 gallons of tar-sands crude. The pipeline would directly threaten at least 20 imperiled species, including whooping cranes.

Extraction and refinement of tar-sands oil produces two to three times more greenhouse gases per barrel than conventional oil and represents a massive new source of fossil fuels that leading climate scientist Dr. James Hansen has called “game over” for our ability to avoid a climate catastrophe. Strip mining of oil from Alberta’s tar sands is also destroying tens of thousands of acres of boreal forest and polluting hundreds of millions of gallons of water from the Athabasca River, in the process creating toxic ponds so large they can be seen from space.

“Keystone XL would be an environmental disaster and create few permanent jobs in the process,” Greenwald said. “Instead much of the oil will be exported — even as the pipeline deepens our dependence on the fossil fuels that are polluting our air, land and water and driving the global climate crisis.”

The Senate's action comes after the House Majority Leader, John Boehner (R-OH), suggested last week that he would support attaching approval of the pipeline to an upcoming highway bill. As the Associated Press reports:

If Congress doesn’t approve the controversial pipeline before the House takes up its highway bill, Republicans will insert the Keystone XL language, the Ohio Republican told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“If it’s not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it’ll be part of it,” Boehner said.

Republicans are angry with the Obama administration’s denial of a permit for the TransCanada Corp. tar sands crude pipeline from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. Obama laid the blame on the GOP, saying a Feb. 21 deadline didn’t let the State Department finish a crucial environmental review. TransCanada has said it will reapply with an alternate route.

TransCanada, the company behind the project, is also weighing its options amid the uncertainty in Washington. According to reporting by Inside Climate News, the company is considering three options for the pipeline:

--It could re-apply for the complete Canada-to-Texas pipeline, which would run 1,700 miles from Alberta's tar sands to Texas refineries on the Gulf Coast and transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

--It could cut off the Canada connection and use Baker, Mon. as the pipeline's starting point, thereby eliminating the need for State Department approval. Instead of transporting heavy crude from Canada's tar sands, the pipeline would tap into the booming Bakken oil fields of Montana and North Dakota. Bakken oil was slated to fill 25 percent of the capacity on the original Keystone XL route, Howard said.

-- It could shorten the project even more by building from Cushing, Okla., eliminating not only the border crossing but also the section through Nebraska. Howard said this option would relieve the oil bottleneck in Cushing by providing additional pipeline capacity to refineries in Texas.


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