Congressional Republicans see the Keystone XL pipeline as the perfect lightning rod through which to channel attacks on President Obama’s energy policy.
The proposed $7 billion pipeline would carry oil from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to refineries in Texas, piping up to 800,000 barrels a day into the United States—about half the amount the nation now imports from the Middle East. Environmentalists passionately oppose the project, because oil extracted from tar sands may emit up to 17 percent more greenhouse gases than conventionally extracted oil.
TransCanada proposed the pipeline in 2008. By law, the State Department must approve or deny the project based on whether it’s in the national interest. But the final call will probably be made by Obama himself. After green groups protested Keystone in a huge 2011 White House rally, the administration postponed its decision until after the election—and now the issue looms large. The president kicked off his second term with two speeches declaring that he intends to act aggressively against climate change, and environmentalists are hopeful that Obama will reject the pipeline, a move that would set off a wave of attacks from congressional Republicans and the oil industry.
House Republicans plan to make Keystone the center of an energy-messaging push this spring as part of an annual effort to call attention to rising gasoline prices ahead of the summer driving season. It’s traditionally a winning issue for Republicans: Polls show that when gas prices rise, voters tend to blame the president. This year’s message begins in the House Energy and Commerce Committee: One member, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., has introduced a bill that would strip the president of authority to make a final decision on the pipeline, moving that power to Congress. It’s an unorthodox move, but one House Republicans are serious about pushing. Over Easter weekend, Terry delivered the Republican address to the nation—with Keystone as the theme.
“The people and the Congress have spoken. The experts have weighed in,” he said. “Now it’s the time to build the Keystone pipeline. No more delays, no more politics. If the president continues to drag his feet, Congress is prepared to act.”
And while most energy legislation has died a partisan death in the divided Congress, Terry’s Keystone bill is likely to get Democratic support. Some key House Democrats have indicated they’ll back the bill, and last month the Democratic-run Senate endorsed Keystone with a filibuster-proof 62 votes. That doesn’t guarantee Terry’s bill will make it through both chambers, but it certainly turns up the heat on Obama ahead of his final decision.
This article appears in the April 18, 2013, edition of NJ Daily as Keystone XL Pipeline Channels Partisan Attacks.