House panel moves to force White House oil pipeline decision

Republicans on a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation Wednesday that would require the Obama administration to make a decision on a controversial proposed oil sands pipeline in the coming months.

House Republican leadership hopes to bring the legislation, which must still be approved by the full committee, to the floor in July. The committee’s Energy and Power subcommittee approved the legislation Wednesday on a voice vote.

The bill would require President Obama to make a decision on a pending permit application for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline by Nov. 1. The 1,600-mile proposed Keystone XL project would carry Canadian oil sands from Alberta to refineries in Texas.

The Keystone XL proposal has pitted the oil industry against environmental and public lands groups, both of which have mounted large-scale campaigns to influence lawmakers on the project.

Critics of the project have pounced on a slew of recent leaks at one of TransCanada’s existing pipeline projects, while the oil industry has argued that the project would improve the economy and provide much-needed energy security at a time of uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa.

Republicans on the panel argued the bill is necessary to speed up what they say is an unnecessarily slow permitting process. The State Department is heading up a multi-agency review of the project, which was proposed by TransCanada in 2008.

“The fallacy here is that somehow this is being rushed, and I find that very interesting, because the request was initially filed in December of 2008,” Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said. “We’re going on the third year.”

Approval of the Keystone XL project will result in thousands of new jobs and make the country less dependent on oil from volatile nations, Republicans argued.

“It makes perfect sense — it would create jobs and it would reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said.

But Democrats countered that the project could leave the United State vulnerable to oil spills. They also noted that oil sand production results in more greenhouse gas emissions than traditional oil production.

“I believe the State Department ought to take the time to get this right,” Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the full committee, said. “I don’t think it makes any sense to set some sort of arbitrary deadline.”

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Power Subcommittee, called the bill “short-sighted” and “unacceptable.”

Wednesday’s vote comes after TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline sprang two leaks last month. The leaks prompted federal regulators to issue a corrective action order requiring the company to satisfy a series of conditions before restarting the pipeline.

TransCanada received approval from regulators to restart the existing Keystone pipeline just one day after the corrective action order was issued.

The State Department is rounding out a lengthy review of the Keystone XL project, having recently issued an updated environmental analysis of the proposal. The Environmental Protection Agency has blasted the updated analysis as “insufficient.”