Republicans make Keystone pipeline a jobs issue for Obama
Approval of the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs at no cost to the government, Republican senators said at a news conference.
Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 06:22 PM
OPPOSITION: The Canada-to-Texas pipeline has been vociferously opposed by environmental groups who had threatened to make it an election issue. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Republicans in Congress signaled on Wednesday that they plan to keep the Keystone XL pipeline alive as a tool for skewering President Barack Obama on jobs, the top political issue ahead of the 2012 elections.
The Canada-to-Texas pipeline has been vociferously opposed by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, who had threatened to make it an election issue.
In the Senate, 37 Republicans backed a bill that would require the Obama administration to allow work to begin on the pipeline within 60 days of passage, a schedule that will be difficult to achieve in the Democratic-controlled body.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers were drafting a new bill that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to approve the pipeline, wresting the project's fate out of the hands of the Obama administration, an aide said.
The bill, being drafted by Nebraska Representative Lee Terry, would require the energy regulator to issue an initial permit for TransCanada Corp's $7 billion project within 30 days of receiving the application for the pipeline, the aide said.
Nebraska lawmakers had opposed the pipeline because of its route through the state, but TransCanada and the state have now agreed to an alternate path. "The issues in Nebraska have been resolved," said Mike Johanns, a Nebraska state senator who opposed the original route.
The decision now rests with the State Department, which had originally planned to announce a decision by the end of the year, but delayed its ruling pending a study of a new route. That pushes the decision past the 2012 presidential election.
Approval of the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs at no cost to the government and would displace oil imports from the Middle East, Republican senators said at a news conference.
"We know that there's one major shovel-ready project ready to go, and that's the Keystone pipeline," said Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate.
White House: Not a political decision
Environmental groups had said their supporters would be less likely to support Obama's re-election campaign if the pipeline went ahead.
"Incredibly, he (Obama) has delayed a decision until after the 2012 election apparently in fear of offending a part of his political base," said Richard Lugar, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, who sponsored the Senate bill.
A White House spokesman denied the decision was politically motivated, saying the State Department has said it needs more time to review the route's impact on communities and the environment.
"I recognize that there are people in Washington, D.C., who want to apply a political label to every single thing that the president or other members of his administration do," said Josh Earnest, speaking to reporters on Air Force One.
"But at the end of the day this is a decision that falls cleanly in line with the priorities that the president laid out for the need to balance competing priorities," Earnest said.
A State Department spokesman did not immediately have a comment on the bill.
There is hope that some Senate Democrats could sign on to the bill, said Marty Durbin, executive vice president with the American Petroleum Institution, a lobby group for oil companies.
"In either case, having this legislation out there is going to help keep the drumbeat going," Durbin said.
The bill will be fought by lawmakers who want to see a new environmental review of the project.
"I will vigorously oppose any efforts by Republicans in Congress to legislate a rubber-stamp approval for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline," said Bernie Sanders, one of the Senate's most liberal members, who said the project would increase greenhouse gas emissions.
The Republican senators argued Canada will ship its oil east to China if the Keystone pipeline falters. That would lead to more emissions than if the oil were processed through U.S. refineries, said John Hoeven of North Dakota, whose state needs the pipeline to ship oil from its booming shale development.
(Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis aboard Air Force One and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Philip Barbara, Bill Trott and Paul Simao)
Copyright 2011 Reuters Environmental Online Report