House bill would OK Keystone
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April 19, 2013
House bill would OK Keystone

Backed by bipartisan support, the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced legislation that would approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  The Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3) would eliminate the need for the Presidential Permit the project currently lacks.  According to its sponsors, the bill would end “years of bureaucratic delays” by the administration, create thousands of American jobs, and displace overseas imports with millions of barrels of safe and secure Canadian oil supplies. 

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Kerry denies delay

TransCanada is seeking to build a pipeline to transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil sands from Alberta, Canada, across the international border and into the United States.  The company submitted its first application for the needed Presidential Permit in 2008.  The U.S. Department of State denied that application.  In May 2012, TransCanada submitted a second application for a scaled-down and rerouted version of the pipeline. 

In recent testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry said the application is going through the required legal reviews and denied that the administration was stalling on making a decision.  Kerry gave no indication of which way the administration is leaning. 

H.R. 3 states that delivery of oil from Canada is in the national interest because it lessens U.S. dependence on insecure foreign sources, that the Keystone pipeline would provide both short-term and long-term employment opportunities, and that transportation of oil via pipeline is the safest and most economically and environmentally effective means of doing so. 

The bill also states that the state of Nebraska has concluded that the rerouted pipeline will have minimal environmental impacts.  Nebraska has been at the center of the Keystone controversy because of possible effects the initial pipeline route had on underground sources of drinking water.  H.R. 3 was authored by Republican Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska.

Oil sands spill in Arkansas

The committee approved the bill despite the March 29, 2013, rupture of Exxon’s Pegasus oil sands pipeline, which released more than 150,000 gallons of crude oil sands in a suburban community outside Little Rock, Arkansas.   Opponents of Keystone leapt at the opportunity to point to the dangers of moving oil sands through a pipeline.   These include the high friction and heat and associated corrosion resulting from pushing heavy oil sands through a pipeline.  Keystone would convey nearly 10 times the amount of oil that was flowing through the Pegasus pipeline.

The bill would affirm that the final environmental impact statement issued by the State Department in August 2011 fulfills all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.  The legislation also addresses all other necessary federal permits, including those covering right-of-way and activities in navigable waters.  The bill would also confine legal challenges to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“Many people say that [H.R. 3] is an exercise in futility because if it passes the House, it will never pass the Senate,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), who chairs the Energy and Power Subcommittee.  “But I would remind everyone that when the Senate adopted its budget recently, there was an amendment in support of the Keystone pipeline that was approved by a vote of 62 to 37, with 17 Democrats supporting it.”

Click here for access to H.R. 3.

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