House panel approves Keystone pipeline bill

February 8, 2012
The Hill
Ben Geman

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday approved legislation that would reverse President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The bill is the latest GOP-led effort to advance the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline. Republicans are also trying to punish Obama politically ahead of the 2012 election for failing to greenlight the project that GOP lawmakers call a way to create jobs and boost energy security.

Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-Neb.) bill — which passed the powerful committee in a 33-20 vote — is likely heading for the House floor next week as part of wider transportation and energy legislation.

It would instruct the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a permit for TransCanada Corp.’s proposed pipeline within 30 days, taking the issue out of the State Department’s hands.

Three Democrats voted with Republicans for the bill: Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah), John Barrow (Ga.) and Mike Ross (Ark.). Rep. Charlie Bass (N.H.) was the lone Republican who opposed it.

Passage came after lawmakers defeated several Democratic amendments, including Rep. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) plan to require that Keystone XL oil, and refined products that it's turned into, remain in the United States.

Markey used the amendment — which failed 14-37 — to batter GOP claims that Keystone will help curb reliance on oil from unstable nations.

“This appears to be a complete fiction, because under this bill there are no guarantees that even a drop of the tar sands oil and fuels will stay in this country,” Markey said.

“This bill is not about energy security, it is not about jobs, it is about oil company profits, plain and simple.”

But Republicans disagreed and pointed to a memo from an Energy Department official who said the oil will be attractive to Gulf Coast refineries. 

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said the project would be a good idea even if some oil was exported.

“Even if you accept [Markey’s] premise, more oil going on the world market is a good thing,” Shimkus said.

And when it comes to refined products made from the oil, critics of the amendment said such potential exports should not be vilified.

“They are value-added products. They are creating and maintaining jobs in the United States,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).

Across Capitol Hill, top Senate Republicans are promoting legislation that would mandate approval of the pipeline. 

Proponents are weighing options including efforts to attach Keystone language to the upper chamber’s big transportation bill, or the next extension of the payroll-tax cut.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, told reporters Tuesday that the payroll-tax bill shouldn’t be ruled out as a medium to introduce Keystone language, but called highway legislation a natural fit.

“I do think there are a lot of reasons why it makes sense here,” he said in the Capitol. “There are a lot of other energy issues that are addressed in the context of the House highway bill.”

Major business groups and some unions are also pushing for approval of the project.

Environmentalists bitterly oppose Keystone over greenhouse gas emissions and other ecological damage from Alberta’s oil sands projects, as well as fears of spills along the route. They accuse proponents of inflating the number of jobs it would create.

The Obama administration last month rejected a permit for TransCanada. Obama claimed that a Feb. 21 deadline the GOP demanded left inadequate time to complete review, but the administration invited TransCanada to reapply.

The White House, before a short-term payroll-tax-cut extension in December created the deadline, had planned to punt on making the decision on Keystone until after the 2012 election.

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