Dems counter energy security claims about Keystone XL project

Democrats this week opened an aggressive front to counter the Republican push to green-light the Keystone XL pipeline, alleging the project will do little to improve U.S. energy security.

The move is meant to undercut Republicans’ rationale for speedy approval of the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline – that the project will make the United States less reliant on oil from unstable nations.

Democrats in the House and Senate revived long-standing concerns this week that oil from the project will be exported to other countries.

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“[When] the oil is not sold to other countries, then I'll take a look at it. But until that's the case, I think I and most Democrats feel the same way,” Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThe Memo: Trump pulls off a stone-cold stunner The Memo: Ending DACA a risky move for Trump Manchin pressed from both sides in reelection fight MORE (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday.

Keenly aware of recent polls showing that a majority of Americans support the pipeline, Democrats are trying to change the Keystone narrative and blunt GOP attacks on Obama for rejecting the project last month.

Republicans in both chambers have launched a renewed campaign to reverse Obama’s decision. House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans are expected to approve legislation next week that essentially forces approval of the pipeline.

House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE (R-Ohio) has said he will consider attaching the measure to an infrastructure bill coming to the floor later this month. Senate Republicans have floated separate legislation aimed at approving the pipeline.

While the bills are unlikely to pass the Senate or get signed into law, they offer the GOP an opportunity to punish Obama politically for rejecting the pipeline.

In an effort to discredit the GOP Keystone push, House Democrats introduced a message bill Friday that would block oil carried through the pipeline from being exported to other nations.

“You can’t sneak a 1,700 mile pipeline past the American people, and you shouldn’t be able to sneak the oil out of the United States either,” Rep. Markey (D-Mass.), who sponsored the bill along with a handful of other Democrats, said in a statement. “Other countries shouldn’t be allowed to bisect our country with a pipeline and then bypass our citizens to send the oil abroad.”

Democrats are highlighting an exchange at a December House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing during which Markey questioned Keystone developer TransCanada about his concerns.

Markey pressed Alexander Pourbaix, a top executive at the company, to prohibit refiners TransCanada contracts with from exporting the refined fuels to other countries.

“No, I can’t do that,” Pourbaix said. “We’ve already agreed to our shipping arrangements.”

TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard pushed back on claims that oil from the pipeline would be exported to other countries.

“We have been very clear: Keystone XL is not an export pipeline,” he said. “Our customers approached us to build Keystone XL because they need the oil to maintain operations at their refineries.”

But he also acknowledged that TransCanada has little control over the oil once it reaches refineries.

“TransCanada does not own the oil that is produced and delivered to our customers,” Howard said. “Rather, we are simply hired to safely move the oil from one point to its final destination.”

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast. President Obama rejected the project last month, but invited TransCanada to reapply.

Obama blamed the rejection on Republicans, who forced inclusion of a measure in a payroll tax cut package requiring a decision within 60 days. The president said he was forced to deny the Keystone permit because there was not enough time to adequately review the project.

Republicans say Obama passed up a major opportunity to create jobs, boost the economy and obtain oil from an American ally. But opponents of the project say the energy security and jobs claims are exaggerated and they raise questions about greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands production.