House Preempts Senate Democrats, Passes Keystone XL Bill

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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House Republicans have preempted Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Keystone XL pipeline push by passing their own legislation before the Senate could act.

The House passed a bill Friday introduced by Landrieu’s Republican opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy that would fast-track approval of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline after years of delay by the Obama administration. Thirty-one Democrats voted for the bill.

Cassidy and Landrieu are facing off in a runoff election next month after no single candidate took a majority last week. Landrieu’s prospects for re-election look dim. In the election, she only gained 42 percent of the vote while her two Republican challengers took 55 percent of the vote.

On Wednesday, Landrieu took to the Senate floor to urge the House and Senate to pass a bill approving the pipeline, which will bring oil sands from Alberta, Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

While Landrieu was speaking on the Senate floor, however, Cassidy announced the House would be taking up his own Keystone bill. Landrieu’s call for a vote was also criticized by Republicans as a political stunt.

“We’ve been pushing to approve the Keystone XL pipeline for nearly four years now,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter. “The timing is beyond obvious that it’s a political stunt.”

Vitter joined Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota in pressing the Obama administration to state his position on legislation aimed at approving Keystone.

“Multiples attempts to have the Senate vote to approve the pipeline over the past two years have been rejected by Democratic leadership prior to the recent November election,” the senators wrote. “Now that they are planning to hold a vote, it is essential that we understand your position on this legislation.”

“The American people deserve to know if the effort by Democratic leadership to finally make good on our request to vote to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline is a serious attempt to build the pipeline and grow our economy, or if this is a shell game designed to give certain Democratic Senators cover as they meet with constituents to discuss this issue,” wrote the senators.

The White House has not given its position on the bill, but press secretary Josh Earnest said the “administration has taken a dim view of these kinds of legislative proposals in the past.”

“It’s fair to say that our dim view of these kinds of proposals has not changed,” Earnest added, Reuters reports.

House Democrats are still resisting approval of the pipeline, arguing it would be catastrophic for the climate and the environment. Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis argued the pipeline could raise gasoline prices for U.S. consumers.

“Of what benefit to America is this project?” Polis said on the House floor Thursday. Polis even tried to get consent to bring the immigration bill to the House floor instead.

The State Department, however, said that Keystone XL would have little impact on the climate and the environment since Canadian oil sands would be brought to market even if the pipeline were not approved. Oil sands would simply be transported by rail if Keystone were not built.

Keystone XL will carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day through the U.S. if it’s approved. The State Department estimated the project would create some 42,000 jobs during its construction phase.

Some pipeline supporters have even argued that not building the pipeline will increase U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and lead to more deaths from railroad accidents. An American Action Forum study found that delaying Keystone could allow 7.4 million tons of carbon dioxide to be emitted since a delay was put on the project’s decision in 2012.

“The market will find a way to deliver products to customers,” wrote Catrina Rorke, AAF’s energy and environment policy director. “Replacing pipeline with rail-based crude oil transport presents real, measurable risks to the climate, our natural environment, and Americans’ lives and safety.”

The House vote means that if the Senate approves the bill, it will head straight to President Obama’s desk. The Senate is set to vote on Landrieu’s Keystone bill next week.

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