The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the eighth time congressional Republicans have advanced a measure promoting the project.
Democrats called yesterday’s vote in the Republican-controlled chamber a largely symbolic effort to score political points because the bill was unlikely to become law. The Senate, where Democrats have the majority, isn’t considering similar legislation, and President Barack Obama’s administration has threatened a veto should the bill emerge from Congress.
Under the measure, Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. wouldn’t have to win approval from the U.S. State Department for the pipeline, which is supported by labor unions and the energy industry and opposed by environmental groups fighting climate change.
In the 241-175 House vote approving the bill, 19 Democrats joined the 222 Republicans supporting it.
Republicans said the administration has had enough time to review the project, which they said will create thousands of construction jobs and reduce U.S. reliance on unfriendly countries such as Venezuela as sources for energy needs.
“It is time for the president to put his political calculations aside, work with Republicans to approve the Keystone pipeline, and advance a growth and jobs agenda that will help our economy grow and put more Americans back to work,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement after the vote.
Democrats opposing the bill said Keystone is a pollution risk to farms and ranches in the nation’s midsection, and would promote development of Alberta’s oil sands, thereby increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
“To quote Yogi Berra, it’s deja vu all over again here in the House of Representatives,” said Representative Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, paraphrasing to the former New York Yankees catcher. Polis said it was the eighth time in 2 1/2 years that the House had voted on legislation or resolutions that included Keystone language.
The administration said May 21 that it “strongly opposes” the bill, and aides to Obama would recommend a veto.
The measure would “circumvent longstanding and proven processes” for evaluating cross-border pipelines and “prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could have serious security, safety, environmental and other ramifications,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.
The State Department has jurisdiction over Keystone because it crosses the border with Canada.
Keystone is designed to carry a type of heavy crude called bitumen from Alberta to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Combined with oil extracted from shale formations in North Dakota, the line would transport about 830,000 barrels a day, crossing six U.S. states.
Environmental groups including 350.org and the Sierra Club have lobbied the administration to reject the project over climate change concerns. Local groups such as BoldNebraska say the project threatens farms and ranches.
A draft State Department environmental impact statement concluded the Alberta oil would find its way to customers with or without Keystone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the department’s review wasn’t thorough enough.
After the State Department issues a final environmental assessment, it will determine whether Keystone is in the national interest by evaluating issues such as economic impact, trade and relations with foreign governments.
Canadian officials have stepped up lobbying to win a U.S. permit for the project, which would relieve an oil glut in Alberta and increase revenue to the province.
Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for 350.org, said the group expects a final decision by October.
Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, has introduced in his chamber a bill similar to the House measure.
“We’re still looking for a vehicle in the Senate,” to advance the legislation, Don Canton, a spokesman for Hoeven, said in an interview.
Today, 24 Senate Republicans wrote Obama to urge him not to link approval of Keystone with the enactment of more stringent environmental regulations such as greenhouse gas limits, as some Democrats and environmental groups have urged.
“Americans cannot afford the environmentalist wish list of carbon reduction policies as a quid pro quo for Keystone XL pipeline project approval,” Hoeven, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, David Vitter of Louisiana and 20 other Senate Republicans wrote to Obama.
The House bill is H.R. 3. The Senate version is S. 582.