In what will likely prove as meaningless a vote as the 37th repeal vote of Obamacare, on Wednesday night 241 members of the House of Representatives voted to approve the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. H.R. 3 would give Congress the power to approve the pipeline and allow TransCanada to build the northern leg without a cross-border permit.
These legislators support the oil industry’s push for the pipeline, even though it would create far fewer jobs than its supporters claim, would do nothing to make the country more energy independent, and would facilitate a dramatic increase in the production of high carbon polluting tar sands oil.
The 241 members who voted for the bill have taken a collective $39,150,812 in career contributions from the oil and gas industry, compared to $5,094,217 for those who voted no. Even more starkly, in the last election cycle, that split widens to $11,529,335 versus $742,125.
Only 19 Democrats voted for the bill, less than a third of the number (69) who supported a similar bill in April 2012. Even some supporters of the pipeline couldn’t vote for tonight’s bill, such as Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV):
“Last Congress, I voted for every piece of pro-Keystone pipeline legislation that was brought before this body…. Something’s happened along the way between then and now. And that something is called a hijacking of this bill by the right wing.”
This is the eighth time Republicans pushed a bill promoting Keystone, and the fifth time it voted to speed up the approval process. A White House statement made clear that President Obama would veto the bill because it “conflicts with long-standing Executive branch procedures.”
While some conservatives may claim the pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs, the most recent State Department draft environmental impact statement found that the pipeline would directly create only “3,900” temporary construction jobs. After construction is complete, the operation of the pipeline would only support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, with “negligible socioeconomic impacts.” Moreover, only 10 percent of the total workforce would be hired locally. For perspective, the U.S. had 3.4 million green energy jobs in 2011 and it was the fastest-growing industry in the country.
The State Department’s report also made clear that at least some of the Keystone oil will be refined and exported in response to “lower domestic gasoline demand and continued higher demand and prices in overseas markets.” This means the pipeline will add nothing to U.S. energy security, a key talking point used by proponents. An amendment offered by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) would have required oil transported by the pipeline to be kept in the U.S. unless it is in the national interest to export it — however the amendment failed 162–255. The pipeline is simply a way for the oil industry to sell refined fuel at higher prices available in other countries, including China and Venezuela.
Proponents have made the case that Keystone will have no impact on carbon pollution and climate change due to the fact that Canada’s tar sands will be developed regardless of the pipeline and transported by rail. However, Canadian government’s top Keystone cheerleader admitted that rail would not be an effective alternative to the pipeline.
In fact, the addition of the pipeline would more than double the production of tar sands by 2025, leading to an increase in greenhouse gases by an equivalent of adding nearly 8 million cars on the road every year. The EPA submitted a public comment on the State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, finding that, among other things, State needs to make revisions on the true impact of the project’s carbon emissions and about how dirty tar sands oil truly is. Without the pipeline, tar sands production is expected to fall flat by 2020.
Congress has wasted taxpayers’ time and money, holding almost a dozen hearings on Keystone since 2011. The bottom line is that the decision belongs to the State Department and it is not Congress’ right to take that power.