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
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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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