Senators introduce bill to allow Keystone pipeline construction

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 2, 2014 - Legislation to authorize construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline was introduced late Thursday by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Landrieu said she expects a vote on the bill on the Senate floor in the coming days. The bill would immediately authorize TransCanada's application with the State Department to build the pipeline - in an attempt to circumvent the administration's stated plan to continue studying the environmental impact of the project.

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The legislation also would finalize the long-running environmental review process while respecting existing private property rights, Landrieu said. Supporters say construction of the pipeline would create more than 42,000 jobs and generate more than $20 billion in economic activity.

“The construction of the Keystone pipeline is very important to create thousands of high-paying jobs, push our economy forward and send a signal to the world that North America intends to step up to the competition and become an energy powerhouse,” Landrieu said.

The proposed pipeline would transport oil from the Alberta tar oil sands in Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast. Opponents argue the 1,700-mile project would increase global warming and make the U.S. more dependent on “dirty fossil fuel.” The Obama administration has repeatedly said the pipeline needs more study, while supporters have said it would create thousands of jobs and lower U.S. reliance on foreign oil.

Hoeven said the pipeline is “a vital energy infrastructure project that the American people clearly favor.” Hoeven said Congress needs to make the decision because the administration has “delayed making its decision indefinitely.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Mark Warner, D-Va., Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., John Walsh, D-Mont., and all Senate Republicans. Hoeven and Landrieu said the measure is backed by 56 senators, but acknowledged they need 60 votes to approve the legislation.

The bill introduction came about a week after Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., urged the State Department to conduct an “independent, comprehensive” study of potential health impacts associated with the project.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Boxer and Whitehouse requested a human health study of tar sands and the proposed pipeline. The senators said the letter was in response to a recent statement by a State Department official that the department's forthcoming national interest determinations report for the pipeline “will address health impacts,” but did not specify whether it would include an independent, comprehensive look the impacts.

The State Department recently announced that it is extending the comment period for federal agencies to submit views on the project. The move prompted immediate criticism from several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, some of whom have accused the administration of trying to delay making a decision on the project until after the mid-term elections in November. Other lawmakers and stakeholders argue that more review of the project is necessary.

Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, applauded the introduction of the bill. “The needless delay of the pipeline has done nothing to stop development of Canadian oil sands crude but has put the safety of Americans at risk by forcing the oil onto other, more dangerous, methods of transporting energy resources,” O'Sullivan said.

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