GOP Senator Eyes Tethering Keystone to Bill Obama Can’t Veto

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., could be among the key votes as stakeholders seek to revive a stalled energy efficiency bill.
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 15, 2014, 1:56 p.m.

The battle over the Key­stone XL pipeline could flare up again in Con­gress. And maybe soon.

Sen. John Ho­even said Wed­nes­day that back­ers of the oil-sands pipeline are weigh­ing ef­forts to at­tach the pro­ject to debt-ceil­ing le­gis­la­tion or an­oth­er must-pass bill.

“We would try to at­tach it to something that [Pres­id­ent Obama] would not veto,” Ho­even, a North Dakota Re­pub­lic­an and out­spoken ad­voc­ate of the pro­ject, told re­port­ers in a brief­ing.

He said le­gis­la­tion to raise the debt ceil­ing, which law­makers will con­sider in the com­ing weeks or months, is an op­tion. In­flu­en­tial GOP Rep. Paul Ry­an has also floated this idea. “There has already been dis­cus­sion of that as a pos­sib­il­ity,” Ho­even said.

But even some Key­stone back­ers bristled at the no­tion in an earli­er debt-ceil­ing battle.

And the polit­ic­al strategy has not been fi­nal­ized. “There’s any num­ber of bills that we have talked about but we would have to see,” Ho­even said.

Ho­even noted that “the first thing is to get [Obama] to make a de­cision.” But a spokes­man for the sen­at­or later said, “If the [White House] con­tin­ues to delay in­def­in­itely, we will pur­sue a le­gis­lat­ive solu­tion pri­or to a de­cision.”

There’s some pre­ced­ent for try­ing to teth­er a Key­stone pro­vi­sion to high-stakes fisc­al le­gis­la­tion.

In late 2011, Con­gress at­tached lan­guage to payroll-tax-cut le­gis­la­tion set­ting a dead­line for a Key­stone per­mit de­cision, prompt­ing Obama to re­ject the pipeline and in­vite de­veloper Tran­sCanada to re­apply (which they did).

Ho­even held a pro-Key­stone brief­ing Wed­nes­day with a pair of seni­or Ca­na­dian of­fi­cials: Gary Doer, the am­bas­sad­or to the United States, and Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs John Baird.

The brief­ing was part of a lar­ger push for the pro­ject Wed­nes­day on Cap­it­ol Hill. The two Ca­na­dian of­fi­cials held a sep­ar­ate brief­ing with Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Mary Landrieu, D-La.

Heitkamp warned that the longer the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision-mak­ing pro­cess drags on, the more sup­port there will be in Con­gress to take ac­tion on the pipeline.

“We’re con­cerned about miss­ing yet again an­oth­er con­struc­tion sea­son on the north­ern part of the pipeline, so as we get closer to los­ing that op­por­tun­ity I think you’re go­ing to see more and more dis­cus­sion in the United States Sen­ate about mov­ing Key­stone uni­lat­er­ally or without a de­cision from the pres­id­ent,” she said.

Key­stone has ma­jor­ity sup­port in both cham­bers.

Ho­even won 62 votes on a pro-Key­stone amend­ment dur­ing a budget de­bate last March, al­though a few Demo­crats later claimed that they hadn’t really cast an out­right pro-pipeline vote.

The pro­posed pipeline, which has been un­der Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­view for years, would bring crude oil from Al­berta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies. It would also carry some oil from North Dakota’s boom­ing Bakken re­gion.

Back­ers — in­clud­ing ma­jor busi­ness groups and a num­ber of uni­ons — call it a way to boost en­ergy se­cur­ity and cre­ate jobs.

En­vir­on­ment­al groups and some Demo­crats (the caucus is di­vided) op­pose the pro­ject, call­ing it a cata­lyst for car­bon-in­tens­ive and eco­lo­gic­ally harm­ful oil-sands pro­jects.

But a draft State De­part­ment ana­lys­is last March found that either ap­prov­ing or re­ject­ing the pro­ject, con­trary to en­vir­on­ment­al­ists’ claims, would have very little ef­fect on the rate of oil-sands pro­duc­tion ex­pan­sion.

Key­stone op­pon­ents are push­ing State to re­verse that find­ing in the fi­nal ana­lys­is that could be re­leased shortly. Obama has said he will not ap­prove Key­stone un­less he’s con­fid­ent that the pipeline would not “sig­ni­fic­antly ex­acer­bate” car­bon emis­sions.

Clare Foran contributed to this article.
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