Washington Week Ahead: Focus on Keystone XL Pipeline

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHNGTON, Nov. 17, 2014 - Much of rural America will be paying close attention to the U.S. Senate this week as lawmakers prepare for a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would carry heavy crude oil from Canada's Alberta tar sands, North Dakota and Montana through the U.S. midsection to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Earlier this year, North Dakota crude oil production surpassed 1.0 million barrels per day - the result of increasing crude oil production from the Williston Basin in North Dakota and the Three Forks formations in North Dakota and eastern Montana, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Moving that production via rail - instead of pipelines - has resulted in increased congestion and huge delays for elevators hoping to move grain along the same railways.

The Republican-dominated House passed a bill approving the project last week, the biggest vote so far in the lame-duck session of Congress that will end in mid-December. The measure's fate in the Senate, where Democrats still have a majority - at least for the next six weeks -- is still uncertain. And President Obama has not specifically said he would veto the legislation, although last week he asserted in a TV interview from Asia that the oil from the pipeline will just pass through the U.S. and be sold elsewhere, with no effect on U.S. gasoline prices.

“If my Republican friends want to focus on what's good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy. I'm happy to have that conversation,” he said.

In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said the latest information he's heard is that Obama was “leaning” toward a veto, but said he had no assurance that was the case. “I hope and expect that he will,” Whitehouse said. “I think it's important to send that signal right off the bat. I think the new Republican majority has long despised and denigrated this president. And if they can roll him, I think they would like to. And I think it's important for him to set the stage early on this, particularly when the stakes are so high for climate, for the environment, for the damage that the pipeline will do.”

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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., appearing on the same program, agreed with host Chris Wallace that the vote was mostly for show, that Majority Leader Harry Reid had called for a vote just to help Senate Energy Committee Chair Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is sponsoring the legislation and who is in a runoff for her seat against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, “with a full expectation that it's going to get vetoed by the president anyway,” if it were to pass. Cassidy is sponsoring the bill in the House.

“This is a cynical attempt to save a Senate seat in Louisiana,” Thune said. “If the Democrats were serious about this, we would have voted on this years ago. I mean, this thing has been hanging around now for six years. There's been five environmental impact reviews of the Keystone pipeline, all of which have come back and said it would have minimal impact on the environment. The president's own State Department says it would support over 40,000 jobs. In my state of South Dakota, 3,000 to 4,000 jobs, $100 million in earnings, $20 million in property tax revenue. This is an issue, a no-brainer in the eyes of the American public, which finally, finally is coming to the floor of the United States Senate not because they're worried about American jobs, but because they're worried about the job of a senator from Louisiana.”

Whitehouse argued that the environmental damage TransCanada Corp.'s pipeline would cause would more than offset the benefits from the number of jobs it would create, which he said would be much less than the figures cited by Thune, and he said Reid had twice before offered votes on Keystone, but Republicans had refused to allow the votes to go forward, because that would have been helpful to Democrats.

On Sunday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN's “State of the Union” that as of late last week, Landrieu was one vote short of the 60 needed to move ahead on the issue.  “I know they're burning up the phone lines and emails trying to find that vote to support the procedural move.”

On a different issue, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, last week said he's hoping the lame duck Congress will act on legislation that would revive certain tax breaks that expired last year, but there's no sign yet that the “tax-extender” bills will come up for consideration this week. One of the extenders, known as section 179, would allow small businesses, including farmers, to immediately deduct $500,000 of the cost of new equipment immediately, rather than over a 10-year period. When the provision expired, the allowable deduction dropped to $25,000.

“I have regularly heard from constituents who are putting off purchasing major items because that deduction is no longer available at the higher level,” Grassley told reporters on a conference call last week.

President Obama's executive action on immigration regulations could also come at any time. He has promised to act by the end of the year, in the absence of congressional movement on the issue. And that is nowhere in sight. In an interview broadcast on CBS's “Face the Nation” program, Mitt Romney, the Republican who lost to Obama in the 2012 presidential race, said Obama would be “poking an eye” in the face of the GOP, making compromise on immigration and other issues more difficult. “It's the wrong way to go,” Romney said.

Here's a list of agriculture related events happening in the coming week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, Nov. 17

11:30 a.m. Press conference at which USDA will announce completion of partnership to mitigate greenhouse gases through a carbon purchase program. Officials will announce completion of “first of its kind” purchase of verified carbon credits on working ranch lands by Chevrolet. Participants include: Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, USDA; Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Greg Martin, executive director for global public policy, General Motors; John Tomke and Paul Schmidt from Ducks Unlimited; and Sean Penrith, executive director, The Climate Trust. USDA headquarters.

12 p.m. The House returns at noon for morning hour and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business, with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.

3 p.m. USDA Turkey Hatchery report.

4 p.m. USDA weekly Crop Progress report.

5 p.m. House Rules Committee holds hearing on HR 4012, the Secret Science Reform Act, which would prohibit the EPA from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible, and on HR 1422, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform, which would establish board member qualifications.

6:30 p.m. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack delivers remarks at Purdue University's Presidential Lecture Series at the school in West Lafayette, Indiana.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will participate in a Q&A at the Foreign Policy Group's “Transformational Trends” forum in Washington. He is also scheduled to meet with Daniel Yohannes, U.S. ambassador to the OECD.

 

Tuesday, Nov. 18

The Senate is expected to consider a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline project. The House the measure last week.

10 a.m. The House meets for morning hour and at noon for legislative business.

2 p.m. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats holds a hearing on Water Sharing Conflicts and the Threat to International Peace. 2255 Rayburn.

2:30 p.m. Senate Finance Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS oversight holds a hearing on: Tax Relief After a Disaster - How Individuals, Small Businesses and Communities Recover. 215 Dirksen.

4:30 p.m. AGree, National Geographic host discussion titled “A Better Path from Farm to Fork: Policy Solutions for the Future of Food.” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow will deliver keynote address. The event will coincide with the release of AGree recommendations on Working Landscapes, Food & Nutrition, and International Development. Other participants include: Dan Glickman, AGree co-chair and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary; Pam Johnson, past president, National Corn Growers Association; and Gregory Page, executive board chairman, Cargill.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack will tour research facilities and host a roundtable with students at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. He will be joined by Purdue University President Mitch Daniels for a media availability.

 

Wednesday, Nov. 19

10 a.m. The House meets for morning hour and at noon for legislative business.

2 p.m. The House Financial Services Committee holds a hearing titled Opportunities for a Private and Competitive Sustainable Flood Insurance Market, 2123 Rayburn.

3 p.m. USDA releases reports on Broiler Hatchery and Milk Production.

USTR Froman will speak at the Wilson Center's Directors' Forum in Washington.

 

Thursday, Nov. 20

9 a.m. The House meets for legislative business. Last votes of the week are expected no later than 3:00 p.m. The House is in recess from close of business today until Monday, Dec. 1, for the Thanksgiving holiday.

3 p.m. USDA releases reports on Farm Labor and Livestock Slaughter.

USTR Froman travels to Brussels to meet with newly appointed EU commissioners.

 

Friday, Nov. 21

3 p.m. USDA releases reports on Cattle on Feed, Cold Storage, Chickens and Eggs, and Peanut Prices.

Acting Deputy USTR Wendy Cutler will deliver remarks on the Obama administration's trade agenda in the Asia-Pacific region at the 2014 Emerson Conference on International Business in St. Louis.

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