Senate Republican leaders are expected to introduce legislation Monday renewing their push for approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, citing Congress' powers in the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution to allow lawmakers to advance the project without the approval of the Obama administration.
The bill would give Congress the power to push forward the project, instead of relying on President Obama, who rejected the pipeline on Jan. 18 after Republicans imposed a 60-day deadline for approval as part of December's payroll tax cut deal. At the time, Obama said the GOP forced his hand by imposing an arbitrary deadline that prevented the administration from conducting an adequate review of the project's potential economic and environmental impacts.
This new bill is a lot like the old one, but it makes it definitive that Congress has the authority to push the Keystone XL pipeline forward, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who sponsored the proposal along with Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told The Hill. The sponsors maintain construction would create as many as 120,000 new U.S. jobs, although a State Department anaylsis concluded the number was closer to 7,000.
A recent Congressional Research Service legal analysis requested by Hoeven reportedly bolsters the sponsors' argument. The analysis concluded that while the executive branch has historically handled the approval of border-crossing amenities, Congress also has the constitutionally enumerated authority to regulate foreign commerce.
The State Department has argued that authority for pipeline approval should rest with the Obama administration because of the potential foreign policy, economic, environmental and safety impacts the project poses.
The legislation has been sponsored by 44 senators, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Although it may be the most ambitious ploy to force the government to issue a permit to TransCanada, the Calgary, Alberta-based energy company behind the $7 billion pipeline, congressional Republicans are pursuing other avenues as well. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday Republicans will attach a Keystone XL provision to a future infrastructure and energy bill if the project is not approved by the time the bill comes to a vote.
Last week Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) also introduced a version of the Senate measure to put the approval of the 1,700-mile pipeline -- which would stretch from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast -- in the hands of Congress.
Some Republicans have even appealed to one of their Democratic colleagues to green-light the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Hill reports the National Republican Senatorial Committee is pressuring Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to use his position as co-chairman of the payroll tax conference to include Keystone language in the must-pass legislation. Although Senate Democrats told the source they believe Baucus, who has reportedly told Montana business leaders that winning authorization for the pipeline is one of his goals for 2012, will not oppose his party and president in this matter, he has reportedly been known to go rogue in the past.
Baucus split with Democratic leadership to support the 2001 tax cuts sought by President George W. Bush, briefly earning him the nickname Max Baucus, the one-man caucus. An aide for Baucus told The Hill the senator will be looking for every opportunity to get Keystone done, and will use whatever tools or legislative vehicles at his disposal to do so.