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Congress Would Replace Obama as Keystone Decider Under Bill

TransCanada Pipeline Shouldn’t Risk Nebraska’s Water, Obama
A woman holds up a sign protesting the Keystone XL pipeline outside of a State Department public hearing in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Three Senate Republicans plan to introduce legislation that would give Congress the authority to approve TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, which has been denied a permit by President Barack Obama.

The bill has 44 co-sponsors, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana said today in a statement. It would allow the Calgary-based company to begin construction on its 1,661-mile (2,673-kilometer) project to carry crude produced from Canada’s oil sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

Congressional Republicans say the $7 billion pipeline will create thousands of jobs and should be approved. The administration has said it needs more time to study alternative routes after Nebraska residents and officials said the original pathway threatened the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region.

The State Department has authority over the project because it crosses an international border and last year conducted a review of the environmental impacts along the route.

Research Service Report

The Congressional Research Service, which provides policy and legal analysis to Congress, said in a Jan. 20 report that lawmakers also can act because the Constitution gives them power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.”

Pat Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, said Obama may win a court fight. “The president gets an edge in these kinds of foreign relations issues,” he said.

The bill faces long odds in the Democratic-led Senate. Backers would need the support of 16 more senators to get the 60 votes needed to advance the bill, assuming it faces a filibuster.

Only one member of that party, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, is supporting the legislation, according to the Vitter statement.

“Everyone in Washington talks about saving the economy and creating jobs -- the Keystone XL project will actually do something about that,” said Vitter, who plans to introduce the legislation with fellow Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Hoeven of North Dakota. The legislation will be introduced as early as today, said Luke Bolar, a spokesman for Vitter.

Accelerated Decision Sought

Last year, Republicans sought to accelerate a decision on Keystone after the U.S. State Department announced in November it couldn’t decide on a new route until 2013.

That pushed until after the 2012 presidential election a decision on a project that’s supported by labor groups and opposed by environmentalists.

Republicans attached a 60-day deadline for a Keystone decision in the payroll-tax cut extension the parties agreed to late last month. On Jan. 18, Obama rejected the Keystone permit, saying he didn’t have enough time to weigh the risks. He invited TransCanada to reapply after it established a new route.

“The irony is that congressional Republicans stopped this project from going forward by inserting it into the December payroll tax cut legislation and trying to score political points, despite knowing that it could not be approved before their arbitrary deadline,” said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, in an e-mail.

The Republican-backed bill requires the State Department to help Nebraska develop a new route through the state. It doesn’t set a time line for the state to act and gives Nebraska’s governor the authority to approve the new pathway.

“President Obama made the right decision when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered-species director with the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, in an e-mailed statement. “Republicans in Congress need to stop wasting precious time doing the bidding of Big Oil and instead, address the climate crisis and create long-term jobs in a new, clean-energy economy.”

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