House Sends Keystone Approval Bill To President Obama

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would force the federal government to approve TransCanada Corp.’s controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, a move President Barack Obama has warned he will Veto.

Republicans in the House with some Democratic support pushed through the bill, that the Senate passed two weeks ago. The Senate’s road was much tougher, with the passage process drawn out as Democrats fought unsuccessfully to stall it. As the Keystone bill now now heads to Obama’s desk, it is doubtful the Senate will be able to muster the 67 votes needed to override the president’s veto.

The measure passed by a 270-152 vote, with 29 Democrats joining 241 Republicans in voting for passage and one Republican joining 151 Democrats who opposed it.

Obama has based his opposition to the pipeline on a variety of issues, including state court litigation and the U.S. State Department’s ongoing review of TransCanada’s application.

Comments from various federal agencies recently have been submitted to the State Department, including from the U.S. Department of Defense, which said it has no problems with the pipeline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, said the State Department should reconsider its supplemental final environmental impact statement. And the State Department previously found that approving the pipeline would not have much of an effect on GHG emissions.

The Keystone bill dominated the first few weeks of the new Congress and prompted a wide-ranging discussion of its benefits and drawbacks. Before the Senate voted, it took up a dozen amendments to the legislation, passing only one concerning energy retrofitting for schools. Democrats had refused to end debate on the bill until all pending amendments had been voted on.

Some of the other failed amendments included removing land from consideration as wilderness areas unless Congress acts on them within a year; campaign finance disclosure requirements for companies that stand to make more than $1 million from the tar sands; removing the lesser prairie chicken from the threatened species list and speeding up the approval process for liquefied natural gas exportation to World Trade Organization members.

Keystone XL is intended to carry tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast, with a southern 485-mile portion of the proposed span running from the crude market hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries near Port Arthur, Texas, having already been approved.

The pipeline still faces a snag in South Dakota, where a project permit expired last June. TransCanada is currently pursuing a recertification of the permit but has been met with firm opposition by local environmental and community groups.

SENATE PASSES ONLY I OF 12 KEYSTONE XL AMENDMENTS

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday took up a dozen amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline legislation, passing only one concerning energy retrofitting for schools, two days after Democrats refused to end debate on the bill until all pending amendments had been voted on.

GOP leaders had initially planned to vote on 18 amendments, but put off at least six more until Thursday. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said on the Senate floor she hoped for final passage of the bill on Thursday after votes on the remaining amendments.

Eleven of the amendments failed to garner the required 60 votes needed for passage, according to Senate roll call records. One amendment passed by a voice vote would appoint the U.S. Department of Energy to streamline information about existing federal programs to finance school energy projects.

The Keystone bill would allow Congress to approve an $8 billion project that would link Canada’s tar sands crude oil to refineries 1,700 miles away on the Gulf Coast.

None of the other amendments, from both Republicans and Democrats, got more than 54 votes. Murkowski had proposed removing land from consideration as wilderness areas unless Congress acts on them within a year, coming on the heels of President Barack Obama’s plan to make part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a wilderness area and permanently ban drilling there.

Other failed amendments included campaign finance disclosure requirements for companies that stand to make more than $1 million from the tar sands, by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; removing the lesser prairie chicken from the threatened species list, by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; speeding up the approval process for liquefied natural gas exportation to World Trade Organization members, by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and a nonbinding statement opposing presidential authority to unilaterally designate new national monuments, by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

The failed cloture vote on Monday was part of the Democrats’ protest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bid to end debate before all pending amendments had been decided.

Keystone XL is intended to carry tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast, with a southern 485-mile portion of the proposed span running from the crude market hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries near Port Arthur, Texas, having already been approved.

The House version of the bill approving the pipeline, bypassing the traditional executive branch approval process needed for projects that cross an international border, passed Jan. 9 with mainly Republican support.

The White House has continued to hold off on approval of the pipeline, despite fierce pressure from GOP lawmakers and business groups and a Nebraska Supreme Court decision earlier this month that upheld the state’s approval of the Keystone route through the state, a case that had been cited by Obama as a major stumbling block for the pipeline.

The administration has threatened to veto any legislation seeking to force its hand, and although lawmakers can override a veto with a two-thirds majority in each chamber, the party makeup of each chamber and related votes so far suggest any such effort would fall short.

Senate Begins Keystone Debate; WH Threatens Veto

The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate on Tuesday killed two Democratic amendments to legislation approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline while approving a bipartisan energy efficiency amendment, as the chamber kicked off debate over the bill that still faces the threat of a presidential veto in its current form.

The Keystone XL pipeline will carry tar sands crude oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. Pipeline owner TransCanada Corp. has already secured the necessary permits for the 485 miles of the pipeline running from the crude market hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries near Port Arthur, Texas, after deciding to split the lower segment from the more contentious northern route that runs into Canada.

An amendment offered by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., that would prohibit the export of any oil transported through the pipeline was tabled by a majority vote, preventing it from actually being voted on. An amendment offered by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that would require the pipeline be built with U.S. materials met a similar fate.

However, the Senate overwhelmingly passed an amendment that serves as a scaled-down version of energy efficiency legislation championed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Still, the dozens of amendments, including ones that call for the Senate to acknowledge the existence of climate change, that will be considered over the next several days may ultimately be moot. President Barack Obama has pledged to veto the bill, of which a version has already passed the House of Representatives, once it reaches his desk. The Senate would need 67 votes to override a presidential veto.

The bill would allow the pipeline to be built immediately and bypass the traditional executive branch approval process.

TransCanada submitted its original permit application in 2008. The company agreed in 2011 to consider alternative routes for the pipeline after the Nebraska Legislature passed a law requiring it to build around a major aquifer in the state.

That state’s Supreme Court earlier this month upheld the state’s approval of the Keystone route through the state. The decision removes a roadblock frequently cited by President Obama as part of his hesitation to sign a bill approving the project.

The White House still rejected TransCanada’s initial bid in 2012, following controversy over a congressionally imposed deadline to act on the company’s request. But he left the door open for TransCanada to reapply and has expedited the new review of the project.

The U.S. Department of State concluded last year that the project is unlikely to increase the rate of oil sands drilling or heavy crude demand significantly, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has criticized the conclusions as not giving enough consideration to alternative pipeline routes and relying on outdated energy-economic modeling.