Terry’s pipeline bill stirs debate

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January 25th, 2012

Omaha, NE – A bill to strip the President of his authority over the Keystone XL pipeline ran into opposition on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

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President Obama made no mention of the Keystone XL pipeline in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but his Republican opponents quickly singled the issue out in their response. (Photo courtesy WhiteHouse.gov)

The Keystone XL pipeline has become a defining issue between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. After President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels singled out the President’s decision to delay the project during the Republican response.

“The extremism that stifles the development of home-grown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy,” Daniels said.

President Obama rejected the pipeline permit last week on the recommendation of the State Department. The President said it was not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline. But he said it was necessary because Congress had attached an arbitrary deadline to approving a new route that would bypass the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska.

Now Republicans are trying to bypass the President by maneuvering to get the pipeline approved some other way. Nebraska Representative Lee Terry has sponsored a bill that would shift authority over the pipeline from the State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. At a Congressional hearing in Washington today, Terry pointed to a hefty stack of binders, and said there’s no need to delay the rest of the project while Nebraska considers a new route.

“This is what the State Department has by way of environmental studies on the Keystone route,” Terry said. “As you can see it’s very voluminous, and it’s difficult to see how it can be discarded.”

Lee Terry presenting his opening remarks at a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. (Photo credit CSPAN)

But Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones testified that it took the department months to review the initial route. She said the department received 280,000 comments, conducted over 40 public hearings and an intensive environmental review. Jones said pushing through review of a new route would leave several unresolved concerns.

“The proposed legislation imposes narrow time constraints and creates automatic mandates that prevent an informed decision,” Jones said. “The legislation raises serious questions about existing legal authorities and appears to overrides foreign policy and national security considerations implicated by a cross border permit, which are properly assessed by the State Department.”

The hearing continued with hostile exchanges between Republicans and Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Republicans accused Democrats and the President of playing politics with a potential major job creator, while Democrats accused Republicans of being influenced by oil industry lobbyists. The fight is sure to continue this election year – Republicans have vowed to reverse the President’s decision and push the pipeline through.

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