By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Today the House’s subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on expediting the decision to permit the Keystone XL pipeline. In early November, under intense pressure from landowners in the path of the pipeline, environmentalists, and others, the president and the State Department delayed a decision on the pipeline until early 2013 while alternate routes are studied. As Politico’s Morning Energy reported, today’s hearing was “the first chance Republicans have gotten to vent in an official setting over the pipeline’s review being delayed by the administration.”
At the hearing, subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) said the president’s decision to delay the the pipeline had “nothing to do” with the state of Nebraska:
Why does the administration insist on waiting another minimum of 12-15 months to make a decision on this project? But even without their answers, I think it’s very safe to assume this latest delay has nothing to do with pipeline safety, oil sands production, or even the state of Nebraska. Instead, it has everything to do with appeasing a small, vocal group of opponents of this project.
Actually, the decision was very much in response to public concerns, and expressly those in Nebraska. After the delay was announced, State Department spokeswoman Kerri-Ann Jones told reporters that the
…message about the Nebraska Sand Hills has been coming strong and with increasing intensity.
The review we are doing is to specifically look at alternative routes through Nebraska. We won’t go more broadly than that.
Indeed, in late October Republican Gov. Dave Heineman (NE) called a special session of the state legislature to address his citizens’ concerns posed by the pipeline, and soon after the Republican-controlled legislature voted to reroute the pipeline so as to avoid the Sand Hills region and the Ogallala Aquifer. It is interesting to note that although TransCanada originally was strongly resistant to alternate routes for the pipeline, after the Nebraska vote the company is already working to find a new one.
Jane Kleeb, who testified today on behalf of BOLD Nebraska, further explained the position of Nebraska landowners in her testimony:
While the permit process may seem like it is taking too long, we still have no proposed route in Nebraska and no study on how tar sands affects our land, water and health. Additionally, if this oil is meant for the United States, then please make an agreement stating as much. Pass a bill saying the oil is for US consumption. It is hard to rationalize how a pipeline carrying oil across our nation to an unknown final destination can be in our national interest. We all know TransCanada and other tar sands companies need to get their oil to various ports in order to sell it to the highest bidder. In the end, we assume all the risks and none of the rewards.
One of the biggest issues discussed in the hearing was jobs. Republican members of Congress, the American Petroleum Institute, and TransCanada have all recently claimed that the Keystone XL pipeline would create upwards of 20,000 jobs. However, the State Department put the number of jobs created at 5,000-6,000, which in itself is criticized as an overestimate. In today’s hearing, both subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) pointed out that even though they profess to wanting to create jobs, House Republicans have refused to bring President Obama’s American Jobs Act to a vote.
This is not the first time Republicans have tried to interfere with the Obama administration’s process. In July, the House passed Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-NE) North American-Made Energy Security Act, which would have required the president to make a decision on the pipeline’s approval by November 1, 2011. The Senate did not take up the bill. And, Senator Dick Lugar introduced a bill last week that would require the president to make a decision on the pipeline 60 days after his bill has passed, unless the pipeline was determined to not be in the national interest.
Terry, who will soon be introducing another bill to expedite the pipeline’s approval, announced before the hearing that House Speaker John Boehner has agreed to attach the new Keystone delay bill to legislation addressing unemployment insurance and payroll tax cuts.