Energy & Environment

Dems side with GOP to pressure Obama on Keystone

Dems side with GOP to pressure Obama on Keystone

An unusual alliance of Democratic and Republican senators is pressuring President Barack Obama to put an end to bureaucratic delays and approve the Keystone XL pipeline now that a new route has been chosen to avoid ecologically sensitive areas.

“We ask you not to move the goalposts as opponents of this project have pressed you to do,” said 53 senators including five Democrats in a Jan. 23 letter to Obama. “We urge you to choose jobs, economic development and American energy security.”

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is the lead author on the letter that was signed by every Republican in the Senate plus Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska, Joe Donnelly of North Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Warner of Virginia and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

The State Department has been reviewing an application from TransCanada for four years to build the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada across the U.S. border and into Texas.

The issue has deeply divided Obama’s political base on whether the project should be approved. Environmental groups oppose the pipeline, citing climate change concerns, and have staged numerous protests in front of the White House, while unions support construction because it is expected to create thousands of jobs.

A wild card in the decision-making process is Obama’s Secretary of State Nominee John Kerry. During his Jan. 24 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the former senator gave no indication of where he stood on the matter, although he consistently sides with environmentalists on issues of climate change.

“There is a statutory process with regards to the review and that is currently ongoing,” Kerry told the committee after limited questions on the pipeline. “It will not be long before that comes across my desk, and I will make the appropriate judgments about it.”

The Republican-controlled House last session passed numerous bills in an attempt to force Obama to expedite the process and approve the pipeline, but the legislation was ignored by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Obama administration last year objected to the pipeline’s route through Nebraska, forcing Gov. Dave Heineman to reroute construction, a process that was completed last month. Heineman also told Obama his state was prepared to adhere to 57 safety conditions to prevent an oil leak and to address other concerns.

“Specifically, the new pipeline route in Nebraska avoids the Sand Hills, which you cited as a concern in your denial,” the senators said in their letter to Obama.

“The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality determined the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact and would generate significant economic benefits in the state of Nebraska,” the senators said. “This is on top of the thousands of good-paying union jobs and millions of dollars in economic development for our country as a whole, none of which cost any taxpayer money.”

“The pipeline is also a major step toward American energy security. Canada plans to develop this oil resource and the only question is whether we receive the oil from our friend and ally or whether Canada is forced to look for new partners in Asia because we turned them away,” the senators said.

A permit from the federal government is required before the $5.3 billion pipeline can cross the national border and transport an estimated 830,000 barrels of oil a day.

The State Department says it will issue a draft environmental assessment before the end of the first quarter in April, a final decision is expected later this summer.

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