Keystone XL: House Approves Bill To Fast-Track Project's Approval, Drawing Veto Threat From White House

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Keystone Pipeline
The Keystone pipeline requires a presidential permit to be built.

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline got a boost on Tuesday after the GOP-controlled House passed a bill to fast-track the controversial project’s approval.

The legislation, passed on a vote of 238-173, would scrap an existing rule that requires oil and gas pipelines to get a permit from the White House if they cross the U.S. border with Mexico or Canada. The Keystone XL, if completed, would run 1,700 miles from the Canadian tar sands down to the Texas Gulf Coast. President Barack Obama, who is expected to make the final call on the pipeline, has been mulling TransCanada’s proposal for six years.

“We can’t afford to have more pipelines delayed that would help America’s energy security,” said Republican Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio, a co-sponsor of the bill, The Hill reported.

“We should approve this bill, this project in particular, and build it for Americans,” Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, said, the Times-Picayune noted. “It is better for our environment. It is for our economy, most of all, it is better for our workers.”

Under the bill, called the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, pipeline developers would need to obtain a “certificate of crossing” for cross-border oil pipelines and transmission facilities—not a presidential permit. The U.S. Secretary of State or Energy would be required to issue the certificate within four months of final action on the project’s environmental impact statement, unless the project is deemed to not be in the interest of the American public.

The White House has threatened to veto the House bill. Curtailing the approval process “could result in serious security, safety, foreign policy, environmental, economy and other ramifications,” the Obama administration said in a statement.

A similar attempt by Senate Republicans to expedite the Keystone XL’s approval failed on Tuesday after Senate Democrats blocked the proposed legislation.

House Democrats largely railed against the fast-track bill, arguing that the build-out of more tar sands pipelines would dramatically boost greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbate global warming.

“A modern, 21st century infrastructure must address the threat of climate change, the biggest energy challenge we face as a country," Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said.

Henry Waxma, D-Calif., said that the bill “creates a process that rubber-stamps the project and eliminates a meaningful environmental review or public participation. This will undoubtedly benefit TransCanada and other multinational oil companies … but it will harm the American people that we’re here to represent.”

Waxman tried unsuccessfully to attach an amendment to the House bill that would exclude the Keystone XL and other projects with pending permit applications from the bill’s new requirements.

The Obama administration in April postponed its decision on the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, citing “uncertainty” following a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that could lead to changes in the pipeline’s route. 

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