House GOP hopes to revive Keystone fight with tie to highway bill extension

House Republican leadership will take another crack at forcing approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline on legislation extending federal transportation funding for another 90 days.

“American families and small businesses are struggling with high gas prices, and President Obama’s policies are only making things worse,” a House GOP leadership aide said.

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“This bill will pave the way for a House-Senate conference to discuss both reforming how taxpayer dollars are spent on federal infrastructure programs, and also meaningful solutions that would address high gas prices and create jobs by permanently removing government barriers to American energy production."

The aide said Republicans plan to attach language aimed at green-lighting the pipeline — which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast — to another 90-day extension. The move would set up a fight with Senate Democrats if the bill went to conference.

Republicans hope to gain support for their long-time quest to approve the project amid high gas prices and recent news that the Nebraska legislature approved a bill rerouting the pipeline around a key aquifer in the state.

The Obama administration and many Democrats have said that the pipeline cannot move forward without a clear plan for rerouting the pipeline around the environmentally sensitive region in Nebraska.

But efforts to quickly approve the pipeline face opposition from President Obama and Senate Democrats. The Senate rejected a GOP plan to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline in March.

Obama rejected a key permit for the project in January. But he said the decision was based not on the merits of the pipeline, but on a GOP-backed deadline to weigh in on the project included in legislation to extend the payroll tax cut.

In rejecting the permit, Obama welcomed Keystone developer TransCanada to reapply, which the company has said it will do. The president has said his administration will reevaluate the permit based on a full review of the project.

Obama threw his support behind the Southern leg of the project — which would carry oil from Cushing, Okla., to Texas — earlier this year. But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans have said that’s not enough.

House Republicans leaders would attach the pipeline language to another 90-day highway bill extension, a bill that has become mired in partisan rhetoric. 

Congress cleared a three-month reauthorization, which runs through June 30, before leaving town for a two-week recess. 

Lawmakers, including Boehner, have said they would prefer a longer-term bill, but any hope to complete legislation before the November elections is fading. 

Another 90-day extension — although not likely palatable to Senate or House Democrats — could be the only option for lawmakers who have struggled to work through their differences. 

Supporters of a long-term measure had hoped to avoid a ninth extension of the bill, which would have expired in 2009. 

Boehner has deemed the transportation bill a top legislative priority this year, and has said he hoped lawmakers would pass the multi-year version of the measure before the 90-day extension runs out. 

Boehner said before the break that legislation would be ready when the House returns next week. At this point, that bill looks to be another 90-day extension.