President Obama has often used executive authority to get around Congress — and he has promised to continue that approach in his second term.
But now a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to turn the tables on the White House.
Late last week, Rep. Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican, introduced a bill to take approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline out of the president’s hands. The measure has the support of at least two Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bill eliminates the need for a presidential permit and would officially green-light the 1,700-mile pipeline, designed to transport oil sands from Canada through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It also would create thousands of jobs in the process.
“The time is up. No more delays. It’s time to build the Keystone pipeline,” Mr. Terry said at a Capitol Hill news conference Friday.
The move comes on the heels of a similar proposal in the Senate. Sen. John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican, and Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, have put forth legislation to approve the project using Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause.
Other Democratic senators, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, are co-sponsoring the bill, as are a half-dozen Republican senators.
“The Keystone pipeline is the perfect opportunity to put Montanans, and folks across the country, to work right now,” Mr. Baucus said in a statement last week, after the measure was introduced. “American workers cannot afford to wait any longer for Keystone jobs, and there is absolutely no excuse for further delay.”
Of course, both pieces of legislation would need to be signed by the president whose powers it would strip. While it appears both bills could easily pass in their respective chambers, it’s unclear whether either could garner enough support to overcome a potential veto by Mr. Obama.
At the very least, the bills once again demonstrate the growing sense of frustration in Congress over the administration’s handling of the project.
Mr. Obama has continually put off a final decision on the pipeline, even in the face of growing pressure from lawmakers, the oil and gas industry and even the Canadian government, which has begun to make clear that it intends to do business with China and in other Asian markets if the U.S. refuses to build Keystone.
The president reportedly told lawmakers last week that he is nearing a decision, but it’s still unclear exactly when the White House will give an answer.
The answer isn’t expected until summer, at the earliest, after the State Department finalizes its comprehensive environmental impact review of the project.
A draft of that report, released earlier this month, seems to pave the way for approval of the project. The long-awaited study found that the pipeline will have little or no impact on greenhouse gas emissions, one of the most frequent complaints raised by environmentalists and other opponents of the project.
Specifically, the study said that the fuel eventually will be developed and made into burnable fuel by someone — if not by the U.S., then by China.
The study also found that Keystone would have little, if any, impact on American demand for crude oil. Environmental groups have dismissed the report and ramped up pressure on Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry — formerly one of Congress’ loudest voices on climate change and the environment — to kill the project once and for all.
The study, had it been a damning indictment of the project, could have been used by the White House as environmental justification for rejecting Keystone. Instead, it is being held up as proof that the pipeline should be built immediately.
“All of this unnecessary delay has done nothing to improve our energy security or our economy,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican and co-sponsor of the Senate bill. “If the White House can’t see that, then it’s time for Congress to act.”
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at email@example.com.
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