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.”
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.