Pipeline delay stirs anger, but not yet action, on Capitol Hill

Pipeline delay stirs anger, but not yet action, on Capitol Hill
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Republican lawmakers who supported the Keystone XL project are slamming President Obama’s delay of the Dakota Access Pipeline, calling it another example of his harmful approach to energy production. 

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoJudge halts Biden pause on new public lands oil leasing GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' Biden land management pick faces GOP scrutiny over decades-old tree spiking case MORE (R-Wyo.) said it is “astonishing” that the administration delayed the Dakota project despite a federal court ruling it could move forward.


“The courts have ruled, the permits were there, the permission was given, and then the president comes in and intervenes in something that his own department had won the court case on it. So it just shows how anti-energy and anti-economy President Obama is,” Barrasso said.

Activists, environmentalists and American Indians have mobilized opposition to Dakota Access in recent weeks, hoping to recapture the energy that helped grind the Keystone XL pipeline to a halt. 

The administration gave the effort a jolt of momentum earlier this month when it delayed final approval of Dakota Access for an agency review.

GOP supporters of Keystone lamented Obama’s decision but are not yet preparing legislative action, with some noting that the administration’s time in office is drawing to close.

“I’m not exactly sure what can be done,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), whose state hosts part of the Dakota Access project. 

“Certainly we’ve looked at it, we’re studying it,” he said. “But we’ve got between now and the end of the year, when this administration is gone, and can you do anything between now and then?” 

Asked if there was a need for Congress to step in, such as to compel the Army Corps of Engineers to grant the easement the project needs or to hold oversight hearings on the matter, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said, “not at this point.” 

Cramer said the responsibility now should be on the parties involved to work through the issues.

“Right now, my team and I are focused on getting the administration and the agencies and the tribe together to get this thing settled very quickly,” said Cramer, whose state hosts the section of Lake Oahe under which Energy Transfer Partners wants an easement to build Dakota Access.

When Cramer came to the House in 2015, he became a leading advocate for Keystone, which needed a permit from Obama to cross the border with Canada.

Congress tried numerous tactics to force Obama to approve Keystone or bypass his review authority altogether. The efforts soon became a high-profile referendum on fossil fuels and culminated in early 2015 when both the House and Senate voted to approve the project. 

But Obama vetoed the legislation quickly, and later that year, he denied TransCanada Corp.’s permit application. The company is now suing in federal court to get the pipeline approved, and challenging the administration through the North American Free Trade Agreement to recover money it said it lost due to the denial.

Some fear the Dakota Access pipeline could be headed down a similar path. 

Following the decision Sept. 9 by the Army Corps, Justice Department and Interior Department to delay the easement for Dakota Access, some Republicans fear that Obama is looking to stop every oil pipeline he can.

“It seems like another rerun of the Keystone pipeline,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.)

But they’re not rushing to stop Obama.

“We’re watching this, but I don’t think we need anything right now,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Barrasso predicted Obama would veto any legislation on the subject, so Congress can’t do much unless Republican Donald TrumpDonald TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC MORE is elected president. 

“You’ve got to remember who’s in the White House,” he said. “We’re going to have to have somebody else in the White House to accomplish that sort of a goal.”

Energy Transfer hasn’t publicly asked lawmakers to step in, and a spokeswoman declined to say whether it’s something the company wants.

And while American Petroleum Institute head Jack Gerard said the administration’s action is “putting politics ahead of the rule of law,” that group also hasn’t publicly sought legislative action.

Melinda Pierce, legislative director at the Sierra Club, said she was surprised to see a lack of congressional action on Dakota Access.

“It’s a surprise, because with Keystone XL, we saw Republicans forcing a dozen votes to preempt, block and even try and reverse Keystone decisions and inject Congress into that process,” Pierce said.

But Dakota Access only came to national attention weeks ago, so pipeline supporters might just not be ready to take action yet, she said.

Pierce warned that Republicans might soon look for opportunities to override Obama, such as an end-of-the-year appropriations bill. If they do, they could expect an all-out opposition from activists, just like they saw for Keystone.

“We’ll be watching and make sure that Congress doesn’t try in the eleventh hour to inject themselves into this process,” she said. “We want to make sure that there isn’t an effort to push a rider into any end-of-the-year funding bill that would somehow reverse the decision.”