Senators Take Emergency Oil Reserve Hostage to Force Keystone Approval

In a desperate attempt to force Keystone XL, three Senators are threatening access to a vital economic and national security safeguard, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

by Daniel J. Weiss

Republican Congressional leaders have failed to force President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. But that’s not stopping them from trying over and over again, taking hostages in the process.

First they used the payroll tax cut extension as a vehicle to force a decision on the pipeline in sixty days, even before the final route was identified. President Obama was forced to disapprove the permit because there was no time to assess its potential pollution.

This week, several senators took a different hostage: our emergency oil supply.  On February 13, Senators David Vitter (R-LA), John Hoevan (R-ND), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced the Strategic Petroleum Supplies Act, S. 2100 that would prevent President Obama from selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve unless Keystone is approved:

“the Administration shall not authorize a sale of petroleum products from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve… until the date on which all permits necessary … for the Keystone XL pipeline project application filed on September 19, 2008 (including amendments) have been issued.”

In other words, unless the president approves Keystone, he cannot sell our emergency oil — even if Iran causes an oil supply disruption in the Strait of Hormuz, a hurricane or other disaster disables oil production or refining facilities, or any other type of event causes gasoline prices to soar above $4 per gallon.  If any of these events happen, middle class Americans would pay significantly higher gasoline pump prices, giving billions of dollars more to big oil companies that made record profits last year.

These are not far-fetched examples – all of these situations occurred.  President George H. W. Bush sold SPR oil in 1991 before the first Iraq war in case of a supply disruption.  President George W. Bush sold SPR oil in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina knocked out oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.  President Barack Obama sold SPR oil in 2011 to offset the disruption of Libyan oil production due to its civil war.  In fact, Sen. Vitter praised President Obama for the latter SPR oil sale.

All of these SPR sales lowered gasoline prices and prevented significant economic damage while protecting drivers from huge gasoline price spikes.  Such emergency sales would be prohibited under S. 2100 unless Keystone XL pipeline is approved.

Additionally, this bill threatens our national security because it would give Iran more incentive to cause an oil supply disruption knowing that the U.S. could not legally access its 695 million barrels of oil reserves.

These hostage taking senators would argue that the Keystone XL pipeline – like the SPR — is vital to provide oil for Americans.  However, that is false.  It is likely that a large portion of the tar sands oil sent to Texas refineries will be for export, and would not be sold in the U.S.  At a December Congressional hearing, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) questioned the CEO of Keystone pipeline owner Transcanda about keeping the tar sands oil in the United States.  The CEO “said he could not guarantee that the fuel from the pipeline would stay in the United States.”

Watch it:

On February 14, 800,000 Americans signed an emergency petition to Senators urging them to stop trying to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. These Americans oppose the pipeline because it would lead to the doubling of Canadian tar sands oil production, which produces 15 percent more carbon dioxide pollution compared to conventional oil, at a time when we must shift to lower carbon fuels to reduce the impacts of climate change.

The Senate is trying to force a pipeline route through Nebraska that is not yet identified, let alone evaluated to determine whether its impact on air and water quality. Because much of the tar sands oil refined in the U.S. would go overseas, Americans would bear the environmental risks while other nations get the oil.

Sen. Vitter’s bill would force the President to approve the harmful Keystone XL pipeline just to get access to  our emergency oil reserves and protect Americans from economic or security threats. Regardless of whether senators oppose or support approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, they should oppose this attempt to destroy a vital economic and national security safeguard.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

16 Responses to Senators Take Emergency Oil Reserve Hostage to Force Keystone Approval

  1. fj says:

    Safe environmental & personal transportation must prevail on all public space #askmike @NYCMayorsOffice

  2. squidboy6 says:

    The democrats should add an amendment which would force any oil from the pipeline to be used US, Canada, and Mexico for the exclusive use in those countries, in other words, it can’t be exported. This would cause a drop in the revenue for that oil and lower the value of the pipeline while pretending to be pro-oil like the republicans.

    If the republicans oppose such an amendment, then they’re anti-American, but anybody who’s paid attention knows where they keep their patriotism – in the bank!

  3. DRT says:

    The democrats should add an amendment that makes approval of the Keystone pipeline contingent on passing fee and dividend as espoused by James Hansen and Citizen’s Climate Lobby (

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    Every time I think I have finally, at long last, figured out just how petty, myopic, and greedy politics can become, the Republicans do something to prove me wrong.

  5. Belgrave says:

    Blocking use of the nation’s strategic oil reserve sounds to me like treason!

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    I agree, Lou.

    It’s hard to say what these three Republican Senators would not do for the oil companies. Sell their daughters to a sheik in Kuwait? I’m not sure about that one.

  7. Robert says:

    Am I missing something? Even if this were to pass the Senate (highly unlikely), wouldn’t the President have to sign it for it to be law?

    Is it … um… likely… that the President will sign this into law?


  8. kj says:

    Mike, I’m afraid that you are correct. They are so much in bed with big oil that absolutely nothing they do is ever deemed inappropriate! I think they pee black :)

  9. fj says:

    The threat of the Keystone XL pipeline seems to have crystalized an enveloping vision of a terrific movement afoot against formidable odds most encouraging, inspiring, and extraordinary potential . . .

  10. kilowat1946 says:

    President Obama could use a signing statement , if the bill passes put a 50% sales tax on all of the keystone oil that is exported. how about a 50% tax on all imported steel pipe that will be used for the pipe line

  11. Steven says:

    If the pipeline doesn’t get built, that’s a huge win for the environment. If the SPR oil never gets burned, that’s a nice win for the environment too.
    Will oil disruptions or price spikes hurt the poorest Americans first? Of course.
    Will climate change hurt the poorest Americans first? Of course.

    We have to get off oil somehow. I’d take this deal with a guarantee that no new pipeline gets built from Canada through anywhere in the USA for say twenty years.

  12. sydney raymond says:

    I for one don’t want this poisonous product to ever come to market. What the rightwing neocons have done by allowing the Boreal forests in Alberta, Canada to be destroyed. In order to placate the monsters that are Big Oil International. Is beyond apprehensable. We need to reign in collar and put on a tight leash. If not barring outright dangerous and destructive corporation behavior. Since the early 1980’s, it’s been an article of faith that the role of govt is to get out of the way of the corp sector. And nowhere more so than international trade. SHIFT THE POWER. We need to change this suicidal trajectory that the fossil fuel industry and capitalism have brought us

  13. alvin ok says:

    Everyone wants a perfect world get with the program and stop bitching if it was ur money u would yeah right so dont hate rich for staying rich. Just relize it is what is and thats how its going to be the quicker u get the hang of it the better America will be

  14. Sean says:

    All I have to say is this, I do not want any type of oil pipeline going over the area in which we get all of our agriculture from, especially since alot of the worlds supply of corn is grown in the area in which the Pipeline will go. On top of that, their is a few trillion gallon natural water supply under the midwest region that supplies water to so many people from farmers to your average person. Water is matter. Matter is energy. Use hydroelectric power over oil, its cheaper, more efficient, and is better for the enviroment.

  15. Patrick Kearney says:

    The American public will become outraged and even morepissed with gas going up.
    Please review the following and do your best to expose the facts. If Americans had any idea that such powerful forces had created the climate Change Debate, the debate would be over and one parties credibility shot forever
    Here you have it the complete history of A Global Warming Disinformation Campaign. The first clip is Frank Luntz Republican Pollster Training Republicans how to lie and inject doubt to postpone legislation by creating a false debate.,8599,2096055,00.html?artId=2096055?contType=article?chn=sciHealth&group=time&title=Who%26%2339%3Bs+Bankrolling+the+Climate%2DChange+Deniers%3F–
    Here you have great Time Magazine Investigative Journalism exposing the funding of the Global Warming Disinformation Campaign

  16. junkwaffle says:

    this shows two things: 1) the republicans are a national security threat and traitors, and 2) the repugs would rather kill the economy and steal more money for big oil from the pockets of the people. They do not care about this country and should be voted out in Nov, and never allowed to lobby in D.C. in the future under the threat of 50 years in prison, which is where they all belong, anyway.