Senate Republicans Try to Reverse Obama’s Pipeline Rejection

WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2012 (ENS) – On Monday, Congressional Republicans tried again to force approval of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed 1,700-mile-long pipeline would carry heavy crude oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, along with 44 co-sponsors, introduced a bill, S 2041, that would grant Congress the authority to approve the pipeline under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota (Photo by U.S. Senate)

Hoeven, a former North Dakota governor, says that as part of the 830,000 barrels of oil per day the pipeline would carry to U.S. refineries, 100,000 barrels a day would come from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana.

Hoeven says he obtained an opinion from the Congressional Research Service confirming Congress’s constitutional authority to approve the project.

But this opinion contradicts the determination by the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration that because the pipeline would cross an international border, approval would require a Presidential Permit stating that the pipeline is in the national interest.

On January 18, the State Department recommended to President Obama that the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline be denied and that at this time the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline be determined to not serve the national interest.

The President agreed with the State Department’s recommendation.

This recommendation was based on the fact that the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act that was passed by Congress in December 2011 provides only 60 days for the President to make a decision on whether the pipeline is in the national interest. The 60-day provision was authored by Senator Hoeven and Republican Senators Richard Luger of Indiana and David Vitter of Florida, who are co-sponsoring S. 2041.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday, “A process was in place, consistent with precedent, where the State Department was reviewing the request for a permit here. When significant concerns were raised about the pipeline route, not least by the Republican governor of Nebraska, a decision was made to seek an alternate route – one that did not run through territory over the aquifer there in Nebraska.”

Pipes on their way to a construction site (Photo credit unknown)

An alternate route has yet to be identified.

Carney said, “Republicans, with absolutely clear warning from the State Department that doing so would put them in an untenable position, chose instead for political partisan reasons to insert this extraneous measure in the payroll tax cut extension, thereby all but ensuring that the State Department would recommend denying the permit because it could not grant a permit on a pipeline route that hadn’t even been identified.”

Senate Republicans say the administration has had plenty of time to review Transcanada’s pipeline application.

Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, said, “Our country cannot afford to further delay long-term energy security, and unemployed Americans with the skills to construct this important project should not be forced to wait any longer. The Obama Administration has already spent three years reviewing the Keystone XL permit and conducting two comprehensive environmental evaluations of the project.”

“Furthermore, the Canadian government has made it clear they will pursue other markets if this project cannot be completed,” said Moran. “This legislation would put Americans to work now and provide an opportunity to grow local, state and national economies while taking a vital step toward energy security.”

But Congressional and public criticism of the State Department’s environmental assessment of the pipeline has prompted the department’s Office of Inspector General to conduct a Special Review.

In a letter released November 7, 2011, a spokesman for Deputy Inspector General Howard Geisel said the IG’s Office will examine the State Department’s handling of its Environmental Impact Statement and its process for deciding whether or not the $7 billion pipeline would be in the national interest.

The review comes in response to an October 26, 2011 letter of request for an inquiry from Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, and 14 other members of Congress, all Democrats.

The Special Review will examine the State Department’s relationship with Cardno Entrix, a Houston-based environmental consulting firm contracted by the State Department to assist in preparing the EIS.

Cardno Entrix was selected at the recommendation of Calgary-based TransCanada, critics allege, although the firm had worked on projects with TransCanada in the past and describes the pipeline company as a “major client” in its marketing materials.

Environmentalists list a host of reasons why the Keystone XL pipeline would not be in the national interest.

Demonstrators carry a mock Keystone XL pipeline past the White House in protest, November 6, 2011 (Photo by Wildlife Action)

“President Obama made the right decision when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Noah Greenwald at the Center for Biological Diversity. “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,” said Greenwald. “The pipeline would directly threaten at least 20 imperiled species, including whooping cranes.”

Environmentalists warn that extraction and refinement of tar sands oil produces two to three times more greenhouse gases per barrel than conventional oil.

Extracting oil from Alberta’s tar sands is 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.”

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “The pipeline was rejected for all the right reasons. President Obama put the health and safety of the American people and our air, lands and water – our national interest – above the interests of the oil industry.”

“His decision represents a triumph of truth over Big Oil’s bullying tactics and its disinformation campaign with wildly exaggerated jobs claims,” she said.

TransCanada has indicated its intention to reapply for a Presidential Permit for Keystone XL.

Construction of the pipeline is supported by the American Petroleum Institute, the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, the Consumer Energy Alliance, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.