Congress, White House in Keystone Showdown

Published December 2, 2014

The much-delayed Keystone XL pipeline has taken center stage in Washington, DC in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections.

Trying to boost the reelection chances of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Senate Democrats agreed to a vote on the pipeline. Landrieu has long pushed for a vote but had been stymied by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s refusal to allow consideration of the bill. Meanwhile, the House approved the project on Nov. 17, by a 252-161 margin. The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Landrieu’s opponent in a Dec. 6 runoff election for her Senate seat.

On Nov. 18, by a vote of 59 to 41, Landrieu and her supporters fell one vote shy of reaching the 60-vote threshold to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. Had the measure passed, President Obama had indicated he would veto it.

The pipeline is expected to come up for a vote again in early 2015 when Republicans take over the Senate. With a few Democratic votes, Senate Keystone supporters may be able to override a presidential veto.

Red Tape

Keystone has been mired in the federal permitting process since Obama became president. Because the pipeline crosses an international border, the U.S. State Department has jurisdiction over Keystone. In 2011 and 2014, the State Department issued reports concluding the pipeline would not have a significant effect on greenhouse-gas emissions and was safe for the environment, but Obama has still not approved it.

Upon completion, Keystone would deliver approximately 730,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to U.S. refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Another 100,000 barrels of oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota and Montana would also be transported to Texas refineries.

Two segments of the proposed 1,200-mile pipeline are already transporting oil: a 298-mile stretch from Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma and a 485-mile segment between Cushing and Nederland, Texas.

If Keystone is not approved, TransCanada is prepared to route a pipeline to the Pacific Ocean, where the oil will be exported to China and other countries in Asia.

Mired in Controversy

Instead of being seen as an infrastructure project that could add to the vast U.S. pipeline network, Keystone became engulfed in the climate change debate.

Proponents tout the thousands of construction jobs the pipeline would create, and they point out moving oil by pipeline is environmentally safer than transporting it on trains.

Environmental groups, however, including the Sierra Club, claim extracting Alberta’s oil would add to what they call “carbon pollution.”

“The shenanigans are shameless,” said Marita Noon, executive director of New Mexico-based organization Energy Makes America Great. “The environmental groups opposing the pipeline are using it as a rallying cry for their increasingly unpopular anti-fossil fuel stand while they ignore the tens of thousands of jobs it will create and the safer transport of Canadian oil it will offer. Regardless of whether Keystone is ever built, Canada will capitalize on its natural resources and sell the fuel to eager consumers. The only question is whether America will benefit from the largess our closest ally is offering us.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C.