House approves bipartisan bill to build Keystone XL Pipeline

May 27, 2013

The U.S. House of Representatives last week agreed to a bill that would move forward the controversial construction of the Canada-U.S. oil pipeline, bypassing the need for President Barack Obama’s approval for the $5 billion project.

H.R. 3, or the Northern Route Approval Act, passed by a vote of 241 to 175, with bipartisan support, according to the committee.

According to House Speaker John Boehner, the pipeline is supported by most Americans, and will end five years of regulatory delays blocking the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The Keystone pipeline will create tens of thousands of American jobs and pump nearly a million barrels of oil to U.S. refineries each day, helping to lower gas prices, boost economic growth, enhance our energy security, and revitalize manufacturing,” Boehner said after the vote.

Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee voiced their strong support for building the Keystone pipeline during the debate on the House floor.

“It’s time, after almost five years, to get the Keystone pipeline working and the people working,” said Rep. Lee Terry, R-NE, author of H.R. 3.

“Not one dime of federal or taxpayer dollars will be in this pipeline—an $8 billion project, 20,000 jobs...,” said Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-KY.

“Only in America would this be controversial…It’s a win for the consumers in America and it’s a win for the workers in America…,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Emeritus Joe Barton, R-TX.

“It is time that this body take action to bolster our economy, move our nation towards energy independence, areas where this president has failed miserably,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-GA.

“If you look at the facts about what this means to America: 20,000 jobs immediately. Energy security where we’re going to be getting 830,000 barrels of oil a day from a friend in Canada that we don’t have to get from Middle Eastern countries who don’t like us,” said Rep Steve Scalise, R-LA.

“America needs action. America needs 20,000 jobs. America needs 800,000 barrels a day coming from Canada. America needs national security that comes from energy security. America needs the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Rep. Pete Olson, R-TX.

“The fact that we can create 20,000 jobs is a good thing— the fact that the National Federation of Independent Businesses support this pipeline, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, manufacturers, the labor unions, support the construction of this pipeline,” said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-CO.

“This a job creating opportunity. This is an opportunity to take energy resources from a friendly ally in Canada, use it here in America, or make sure that it goes to our friends and our allies rather than our competitors like the Chinese,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH.

“In truth, the only thing that is unprecedented is the lengthy delays that we’ve already encountered for a project that has been the subject of over 15,000 pages of federal environmental review, and, yes, found to be safe,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-MI.

Despite the support, Obama was quick to come out with a statement, saying he would veto the bill. A letter from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the Obama administration “strongly opposes” the House resolution.

“If presented to the president, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto this bill,” the OMB statement said.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-WA, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Obama was the last obstacle to Keystone XL.

“The Northern Route Approval Act makes the Keystone XL pipeline a reality,” he said in a floor statement. “It declares that no presidential permit shall be required to approve this pipeline and prevents the Obama administration from imposing further delays.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the Democrat-held Senate will review the bill, despite the touted bipartisan support.

If finished, the Keystone XL, operated by TransCanada, would be a 1,980-mile (3,200-kilometer) conduit for oil from Canada’s tar sands region to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The southern section, in the Texas area of the pipeline, began in 2008, where presidential approval is not needed.

The U.S. State Department is currently preparing its final review of the project, taking into consideration a new route and plan that was designed to alleviate concerns over Nebraska’s Sand Hills and an aquifer that serves eight states. It concluded in a draft report earlier this year that it would have no major impact on the environment.

Despite the changes, some Nebraska residents still aren’t on board.

The U.S. State Department held a public hearing on April 18 in Grand Island, NE, on the new route. Anthony Swift, an attorney in the international program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, made these comments concerning the hearing:

“Nebraskans are sending a clear message: Each passing day provides more evidence that approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be a colossal mistake. We know more now that it would open the floodgates on tar sands oil development, fueling faster disruption of our climate.

“We know now, on the heels of the Pegasus pipeline break in Arkansas, that Keystone XL would threaten hundreds of farms, ranches and communities in its path with potential tar sands spills. We know now it would create just 35 permanent jobs and fewer temporary jobs than estimated before, while jeopardizing tens of thousands of jobs that depend on the land and water that we should be protecting.

“Nebraskans are raising these concerns at today’s public hearing on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and all Americans need to make their voices heard before the State Department’s public comment period on the new proposed route ends on Monday.

House opponent Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, cited the environmental threats posed by the project and said the law would be “short-circuiting the review process.”

Earlier this month, Democratic members of the subcommittees discussed a number of issues regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline such as how the extraction and combustion of tar sands releases more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil; what impact the pipeline’s construction and use will have on agriculture and cattle grazing; how corrosive tar sands oil is relative to conventional oil; how the cleanup of tar sands oil spills require different responses than conventional oil spills; and the threat the pipeline would pose to water resources.

Ranking Member of the Energy Subcommittee, Eric Swalwell, D-CA, said, “I support an ‘all of the above’ approach to energy and I understand the good these jobs could do for communities, but I think that when you are dealing with so many miles, a thousand miles with this particular project, it is in our interest to make sure that we get it right. Although it has taken four years to look at this project, it could take only a matter of seconds to cause devastating consequences to our environment, our earth and people around the pipeline. I think it is worth making sure that we get it right.”

Democratic Members also discussed claims that the construction of the pipeline would create many jobs and would help the U.S. achieve energy independence. They heard testimony that the pipeline would create several thousand temporary construction jobs and other jobs indirectly related to the construction project, but that the ongoing operation of the project will generate only 35 permanent jobs, according to their discussions.

Ranking Member of the Environment Subcommittee Suzanne Bonamici, D-OR, reminded Committee members of the consequences of ignoring long-term outcomes in favor of short-term objectives. “Short-term benefits to our economy should not be overlooked, but they should be considered alongside the substantial environmental and safety challenges presented by the pipeline, including the potentially disastrous impact on the local economy if a spill were to occur. The EPA recently recommended that the State Department take a closer look at how spills of oil sands may require different response actions or equipment from response actions for conventional oil spills. That’s why Congress requested that the National Academy of Sciences study this type of oil, and it is my hope that we will soon know more about what differences exist between oil sands and conventional crudes.”

Anthony Swift with the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “The substantial risks of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline outweigh its marginal benefits. Keystone XL would enable a substantial expansion of tar sands and substantial climate pollution associated with it. The pipeline would endanger critical jobs on ranches and farms in the Great Plains states in order to transport tar sands to the Gulf Coast where it can be refined and exported. In exchange for 35 permanent jobs, Keystone XL would pose a permanent risk to American communities, sensitive water resources and agricultural industry…The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would undermine U.S. efforts to reduce its carbon emissions, threaten communities and sensitive water resources, and increase refinery emissions in the Gulf Coast in order to provide tar sands producers a means of exporting their product on the international market. This tradeoff is not in the nation’s interest.”

Despite their concerns, support from various players in the pipeline continue to come in.

The National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) testified in support of the construction of the pipeline, sharing the direct and beneficial impact on small businesses, specifically in the chemical distribution industry.

Mathew A. Brainerd, chairman and CEO of Brainerd Chemical Company, Inc. and NACD’s vice chairman represented the chemical distribution industry and spoke on behalf of NACD at the hearing. Brainerd emphasized the beneficial effects construction of the pipeline would have on not only the oil and refining industries, but also on small businesses in the chemical distribution industry. “Small businesses like mine and my colleagues in the chemical distribution industry would be directly and beneficially affected by its construction, leading to reduced costs for both ourselves and, ultimately, our customers,” stated Brainerd.—Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor