House and Senate supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline are moving quickly in the new Congress on legislation that would advance the long-pending $3.3-billiion project toward construction.
The measures are expected to clear both chambers swiftly but the White House said President Obama would veto the Keystone legislation if it reached his desk.
Senate Keystone supporters introduced a pipeline bill on on Jan. 6, the first day of the 114th Congress. The House plans a Jan. 9 vote on a companion bill.
Construction unions and industry groups strongly advocate building the pipeline, which has been on hold for six years. They say the project would provide thousands of construction jobs.
But environmental and public-health organizations oppose the pipeline, contending that that it would increase air and water pollution. They also say that it would, for decades, lock in the production of tar sands crude from its planned originating point in western Canada, instead of drawing on cleaner energy sources.
The 1,179-mile project, to be built by TransCanada, would run from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steel City, Neb. The State Dept. estimated the cost at $3.3 billion.
Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, told reporters on Jan. 6 that President Obama would veto the bill if it reached his desk.
Earnest said, “There’s already a well-established process in place to consider whether or not infrastructure projects like this are in the best interest of the country...."
He added that "in previous administrations, when pipeline projects like this were considered, they were evaluated by the State Dept. and other experts in the administration to reach a determination about whether or not that project was in the national interest.”
A key factor slowing down a presidential decision, Earnest said, is a pending decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court. That court is reviewing a case challenging Republican Gov. David Heineman’s authority to approve TransCanada’s revised route through his state. A ruling in that case is expected within the next few weeks.
But GOP lawmakers in Congress have made it a priority to pass legislation that would move the project forward.
The Senate bill, which Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced, has 60 cosponsors. A total of 63 senators have said that they probably would support the measure.
A two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House would be required to override a presidential veto.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the new Energy and Natural Resources Committee chair, had planned to hold a hearing on the pipeline on Jan. 7 and a committee vote on the bill on Jan. 8.
But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), on behalf of other Democratic lawmakers, objected to the hearing, citing procedural reasons.
In a statement, Robert Dillon, Murkowski's communications director on the committee, said that she "was committed to moving legislation through regular committee order and having a robust hearing process.”
The committee had lined up union supporters and opponents of the project to testify, who will now not have that opportunity. “We think that’s unfortunate,” he said, noting however, that the lack of a hearing will not slow down the floor process.
Speaking to reporters at a Jan. 6 press briefing, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said he was “disappointed” that Obama threatened to veto the Keystone bill.
But Gerard noted that “there’s lots of different ways to get something done in this town” and said he is hopeful that approval of the pipeline comes in 2015 through various possible legislative vehicles. “I believe support for Keystone is growing,” he said.