The Quietly Important Keystone Pipeline Date

President Barack Obama (L) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper take a walk on the second day of the G8 summit at the Lough Erne resort near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland on June 18, 2013.
National Journal
Ben Geman
Feb. 4, 2014, 11:49 a.m.

Here’s a date to watch in the battle over the Key­stone XL pipeline: Feb. 19. That’s when Mex­ic­an Pres­id­ent En­rique Pena Ni­eto will host a sum­mit with Pres­id­ent Obama and Ca­na­dian Prime Min­is­ter Steph­en Harp­er.

Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D., said the meet­ing could go a long way to­ward de­term­in­ing wheth­er Con­gress will try to force Obama’s hand on Key­stone by set­ting a firm de­cision dead­line.

Ho­even said he will be watch­ing closely to see if Obama of­fers his pro-Key­stone Ca­na­dian ally a timeline for the U.S. de­cision — and be­lieves Con­gress will get more ag­gress­ive if Obama doesn’t.

“I think the [Ca­na­dian] prime min­is­ter is go­ing to bring this up. What is the pres­id­ent go­ing to say?,” Ho­even, a vo­cal Key­stone back­er, said Tues­day.

“That may af­fect our abil­ity to get our co­ali­tion to say, ‘OK, if noth­ing else let’s set a timeline.’ Once they have that sum­mit, if there isn’t some mani­fest­a­tion of a real­ist­ic timeline by the pres­id­ent, we may have a bet­ter abil­ity to get 60 sen­at­ors that say, ‘OK, we have got to have a timeline,’ ” Ho­even told re­port­ers on Cap­it­ol Hill.

Pipeline sup­port­ers are seek­ing to keep up the pres­sure on Obama to ap­prove the pro­ject.

Ho­even held a press con­fer­ence Tues­day with oth­er Key­stone sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mary Landrieu; Gary Doer, who is Canada’s am­bas­sad­or to the U.S.; and labor of­fi­cials.

Law­makers say they’re mulling sev­er­al le­gis­lat­ive op­tions on Key­stone, Tran­sCanada’s pipeline that would bring oil from Ca­na­dian oil sands across the bor­der en route to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies.

Landrieu, who is poised to be­come chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee, claimed Key­stone sup­port­ers have the wind at their back.

“The sup­port in the Sen­ate is broad and deep and grow­ing. I can­not tell you today that there are the 60 votes re­quired. But we are very close,” she said, re­fer­ring to the num­ber of votes needed to over­come a fili­buster.

Ho­even said le­gis­lat­ive op­tions in­clude bills to re­quire out­right ap­prov­al of the pipeline, a Sen­ate res­ol­u­tion de­clar­ing Key­stone in the na­tion­al in­terest, and a plan to im­pose a timeline.

“We know we have got 55-plus sol­id [votes], we’ve shown that time and again, but we have got to over­come the ad­min­is­tra­tion push­back to get to 60 on one of the op­tions I laid out,” Ho­even said. 

The State De­part­ment re­leased an en­vir­on­ment­al ana­lys­is of the pro­ject last Fri­day that buoyed pipeline back­ers, and now State is launch­ing a 90-day peri­od to take in­put from oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies.

There is no dead­line, however, for a fi­nal State re­com­mend­a­tion or a White House de­cision.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-N.D., said he didn’t an­ti­cip­ate the House do­ing any­thing be­fore the 90-day stretch is up, but Ho­even said he be­lieved the House would act if a meas­ure could clear the Sen­ate earli­er.

Terry also pre­dicted Key­stone won’t be tethered to debt-ceil­ing le­gis­la­tion.

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