House Republicans took the first step Tuesday toward forcing approval of Keystone XL pipeline, with a subcommittee passing a proposal that aims to green-light the massive project without President Obama’s approval.
The bill which is designed more to put pressure on the White House than to actually become law would strip the administration’s ability to block the Canada-to-Texas pipeline. The bill also would limit the number of future environmental-impact studies and streamline the judicial review process for legal challenges to the project.
“This is a big step forward,” Rep. Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican, told The Washington Times minutes after the measure sailed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy and power subcommittee on a 17-9 vote. “I feel a great deal of momentum. I hear the momentum out there. People are just really saying they don’t understand the continued delays that are occurring. So, the people are behind this more than ever.”
Mr. Terry’s proposal now heads to the full committee and he predicted the Republican-controlled House could vote on the bill as early as next month. The Natural Resources Committee, meanwhile, held a separate hearing Tuesday on the issue.
The bill almost certainly will not become law, because it would have to pass both the Democrat-led Senate and get Mr. Obama’s signature. The first of these events would be tough to achieve and the second virtually impossible.
Still, the push highlights the mounting frustration with the Obama administration’s refusal to sign off on the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would transport oil sands from Canada through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
TransCanada Corp., the company behind the project, first submitted an application to build the Keystone XL pipeline to the State Department in 2008. Since then, the project has been in limbo.
Mr. Obama came under fire from Republicans last year when he rejected TransCanada’s application, citing environmental concerns and saying that the project needed further review.
TransCanada later reapplied, with the pipeline taking a slightly different route, and the State Department is expected to make a recommendation to the president in the early fall.
Supporters say that the pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs and push the nation closer toward energy independence. Opponents say that the job-creation estimates are far-fetched, and that the pipeline could have a negative impact on the environment and increases climate change.
The two sides continued to air out their differences during the subcommittee meeting Tuesday.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, warned Tuesday that Mr. Lee’s proposal was another attempt by Republicans to “grant special treatment to the TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline” and “grant the permits by congressional fiat.”
“It would lock out the public, eliminate the president’s responsibility to balance competing interests, and block federal agencies from minimizing the destruction of wetlands and endangered species habitats,” Mr. Waxman said. “Even if you support the pipeline, you should oppose this bill.”
Following the vote, Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican, said the biggest hurdle in front of the proposal will be getting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to put the bill on the floor for a vote in the upper chamber.
“I think it would pass the Senate if they ever took it up, but they have to take it up,” Mr. Griffith said.
Last month, the Keystone project appeared to be picking up additional bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, where the Senate held a symbolic vote in which 62 senators backed the project enough for approving the pipeline.
The vote coincided with a March 28 Rasmussen survey that found 58 percent of likely U.S. voters support building the pipeline, while just 26 percent are opposed. Days later, though, opponents pounced on an spill in Arkansas from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline as proof of what can go wrong with a large-scale pipeline project.