House Republicans push to give Keystone pipeline approval authority to Congress


McClatchy Newspapers

Promoters of the Keystone XL pipeline are agitating for its fast approval now that the State Department has downplayed the project’s impact on global warming. Energy leaders in the House of Representatives back a bill to force the government to approve it, and the premier of the Canadian province of Alberta is in Washington lobbying for the project.

Some Republican congressmen dismissed concerns at a hearing Wednesday on the Keystone bill that the jumbo pipeline to tap Canada’s greenhouse gas-intensive oil sands would warm the planet. Texas Rep. Joe Barton was skeptical of the linkage that scientists have made between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

“If you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the great flood is an example of climate change. That’s certainly not because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy,” Barton said,

It’s up to President Barack Obama to decide whether to allow the 1,700-mile pipeline to bring oil from the Alberta oil sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. The bill, sponsored by Nebraska Republican Rep. Lee Terry, seeks to take that authority out of the president’s hands. TransCanada Corp. first applied to build the pipeline in 2008, and Alexander Pourbaix, the company’s president for energy and oil pipelines, called Wednesday for swift approval, saying it still might be “many months” before Obama decides.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford also is in Washington lobbying for approval of Keystone, saying in an address at the Brookings Institution research center that denial of the pipeline would be an ongoing thorn in relations between Canada and the United States.

A coalition of Keystone opponents suggested that Redford cut short her time in Washington and instead visit the site of the recent Exxon Mobil pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark.

“Redford and Canadian oil companies may benefit from the pipeline, but folks here at home will be the ones taking on all of the risk, without any reward,” said Rachel Wolf, a spokeswoman for the All Risk No Reward group, which includes landowners near the Keystone pipeline route and environmental groups.

Keystone opponents say it would be irresponsible to approve the pipeline before the State Department finishes its review of the project. The department’s initial report found that producing and using oil from the Alberta sands would result in up to 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than from the average crude oil.

“The denial of Keystone XL will help to slow development of the oil sands. As a growing source of carbon emissions, slowing the expansion of oil sands is an important step,” Mark Jaccard, a professor of energy and the environment at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, said in testimony Wednesday to the House energy committee as it considered the bill to force approval of the pipeline.

The State Department’s draft environmental analysis concluded, though, that construction of the pipeline is unlikely to have a significant impact on climate change. That’s because denying Keystone wouldn’t stop the Alberta oil sands from getting to market by rail or by other pipelines, according to the analysis.

Jaccard and the Natural Resources Defense Council disputed that conclusion Wednesday, saying that so much heavy oil is too expensive to ship by rail to Gulf Coast refiners and that other pipelines are blocked by opposition in Canada. The Keystone XL pipeline is crucial to plans to boost oil sands productions, they told lawmakers.

Obama has made it clear that his administration has the final say on Keystone and will never sign into law the bill that seeks to take away his authority to approve the pipeline. But the bill has a good chance of passing the House and getting at least some support in the Senate, where 62 of the 100 senators, including 17 Democrats, voted last month for a symbolic measure that backs the construction of Keystone. Supporters say needed jobs would be created while the pipeline is being built and that oil sands development would boost North American energy production.

The Pew Research Center released a poll this month, taken before the Arkansas oil spill, that found 66 percent of Americans supported building the pipeline.

“The benefits of this project are too great to be allowed to be derailed by environmental extremism,” testified David Mallino, the legislative director of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

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