The Keystone XL pipeline has been knocked out of the headlines in recent weeks, but debate over the project found new life on Capitol Hill this week.
A key House subcommittee held a hearing Thursday to mark the fifth anniversary of energy giant TransCanada’s first application to build the $7 billion pipeline, which would carry Canadian oil sands south through the U.S. heartland to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Further bringing it into the spotlight, congressional Republicans plan to tie Keystone approval — a decision President Obama has avoided for the entirety of his time in office — to a measure raising the nation’s debt ceiling, a move that pushes the White House to accept the project as part of a larger fiscal compromise.
Keystone remains a hot-button issue in Washington and across the nation, with supporters arguing it’s a safe way to create thousands of jobs while also promoting North American energy independence.
Its critics, including some congressional Democrats, think it would be environmentally disastrous and would greatly contribute to global warming.
“It locks us into decades of higher carbon pollution. It’s a big step in the wrong direction on climate change and that’s something we simply cannot afford to do,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and his party’s ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The panel’s subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade held Thursday’s hearing.
Republicans, along with a growing number of Democrats, dismiss that argument. They point to State Department research showing Keystone would have little-to-no impact on global carbon emissions, since Canada already has said it will find other ways to move its fuel to market. That same State Department research also shows the pipeline could create more than 40,000 jobs.
More broadly, it would represent for the U.S. a significant step away from dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
“Five years ago the economy was certainly on unsteady ground. Worse yet, we now have a shrinking labor force. It is understandable why some Americans who want to work have given up hope,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and Energy and Commerce Committee chairman. “Keystone XL can’t solve all of our employment problems. But it could have helped many by now.”
Environmentalists continue to ratchet up their rhetoric, going so far as to say Mr. Obama’s legacy on the issue of climate change will be defined by what he decides on Keystone.
On the opposite side, pressure to green-light the project continues to grow from the oil and gas industry, labor groups and others. In the midst of that non-stop debate, TransCanada this week blasted the ongoing political wrangling that has kept the White House from making a decision one way or the other.
“At the end of the day, I believe that logic will prevail over the loud voices of a few professional activists and celebrities that are using Keystone XL to further their own agendas with no regard for facts and science,” said Alexander J. Pourbaix, the company’s president of energy and oil pipelines.
Mr. Obama is expected to make a decision before the end of the year, though the debt ceiling debate could accelerate the process and lead to a resolution within weeks.
The State Department also is expected to soon release the final version of its environmental study of Keystone. Favorable findings in that report would offer strong clues that Mr. Obama is leaning toward approving the pipeline.