Republicans Seize What They See as Keystone Momentum

House Republicans said President Barack Obama is taking too long to decide on the Keystone XL pipeline as they defended a bill that again seeks to force a decision on one of the nation’s most-political energy debates.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s panel on energy and power held a hearing yesterday on legislation that would allow the pipeline to be built without Obama’s approval. The committee may vote on the bill next week. The Senate isn’t considering a similar measure.

TransCanada Corp.’s $5.3 billion pipeline, which would carry tar-sands oil from Canada to U.S. refineries near the Gulf of Mexico, has been among the most prominent energy fights for the past two years. The hearing shows the issue probably will remain so until the Obama administration makes a final decision.

“Unfortunately, this is far from the first hearing on the topic and far from the first bill designed to grant Keystone XL its long-overdue federal approval,” said Representative Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the panel. “The approval process has dragged on for over four years and there is still no clear end in sight.”

The bill, introduced by Representative Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, would also expedite judicial reviews and limit further environmental analyses of the proposed pipeline.

Some backers say they have momentum following a bipartisan, though nonbinding, vote in the Senate favoring Keystone, and a State Department report that showed the project presented no significant environmental risks.

Senate Opposition

Whitfield said he doubted the Democratic-led Senate would take up the bill under consideration in the House of Representatives, which would embarrass Obama if it were to pass.

Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said Keystone would worsen climate-change risks by promoting the development of oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta.

The hearing was held as supporters and opponents stepped up their lobbying efforts over the pipeline-permit decision.

Officials from Alberta, where the almost 1,180-mile (1,900 kilometer) pipeline would begin, met with several lawmakers yesterday. Diana McQueen, Alberta’s environmental minister, met with Representative Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel, who is also on the energy panel, said in an interview that he encouraged McQueen to provide more assurance that Keystone oil would benefit U.S. consumers and not be sent overseas, as critics have said.

Venezuelan Oil

Engel said he would prefer to buy oil from Canada than from Venezuela or Saudi Arabia if environmental issues involving Keystone can be addressed. He said he opposed Terry’s bill because it would circumvent the process, which he believes will end with Obama’s approval of the pipeline.

Canadian officials haven’t said publicly whether they support Terry’s measure.

Alex Pourbaix, president of TransCanada’s energy and oil pipelines division, told the House panel the company supported the “sentiment behind” the bill.

The State Department is reviewing the project because it would cross the border with Canada. The agency is expected to complete its review in September.

The analysis released last month didn’t recommend building the line, while finding no significant environmental reasons why it shouldn’t receive a permit. The department is now accepting public comments and will hold a hearing in Nebraska next week.

Senate Action

The release of the department’s study was followed by a 62-37 vote favoring the project in the Senate. The vote was part of a budget agreement that differs with a House version. Lawmakers aren’t trying to reconcile the differences, so the Keystone language won’t take effect.

Even if Terry’s bill passed Congress, the margins aren’t likely to be high enough to overcome a presidential veto.

Some Republicans on the energy subcommittee said the new efforts are unlikely to sway anyone.

“Those of us who are for it are going to be for it, those of us who are against it are going to be against it,” Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, said at the hearing.

Barton said the committee should just vote on the bill instead of spending hours debating it.

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