- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2012

Seeking to a stronger negotiating position, House Republicans said Friday they will demand any eventual long-term federal highway funding bill also include approval of the massive Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline project.

The move will once again put pressure on Senate Democrats and President Obama, who earlier this year blocked the project after Congress set a deadline for him to make a decision.

“The House will insist that the Keystone XL legislation be included as part of the package,” the Energy and Commerce Committee said in a press release Friday, laying out leaders’ plans to force another confrontation with the president.

Keystone would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands into the U.S., and has strong support from both business and labor groups, but has been strongly opposed by leading environmentalist groups.

The project hit a snag late last year when the Obama administration’s State Department, which has a say because the pipeline crosses international boundaries, delayed final approval until after the 2012 election, citing concerns the route would affect sensitive Midwestern ecosystems.

As part of a late-session tax-cut deal Congress voted to impose a hard-and-fast deadline for making a final decision. Mr. Obama said it gave him too little time, so he denied the pipeline application.

That denial has turned into a sore point with Canada, and congressional Republicans have since fought to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — no the State Department — final say over the pipeline.

If the GOP is successful, it will add another element to an already complicated transportation debate.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill that extends highway-building authority for two years, and transferring some money from general revenues to cover an expected shortfall in gas taxes.

House Republicans, though, have struggled to pass a bill, with their members divided over issues such as how much to fund transit and whether to change funding formulas.

Adding the Keystone provisions could help boost unity within the GOP, but is likely to face opposition from Senate Democrats, who have been divided on the pipeline.