Keystone Pipeline Measure Approved by House Panel

A House panel advanced legislation Thursday that would declare that a presidential permit is not required for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline’s northern route from the Canadian border through Nebraska.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bill 33-24. Democrats Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Cheri Bustos of Illinois joined Republicans in support of the measure.

Panel Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. , said he expects the legislation on the House floor next week. The measure (HR 3) would circumvent President Barack Obama’s 2012 decision to conduct further review of the proposed 1,700-mile-long pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada’s oil sands region to Texas refineries in the Gulf Coast.

The House passed a bill last year that would have set a specific deadline for the president’s decision on the project, with some Democratic support. This year, several Democrats who voted for last year’s bill expressed concern that the current bill would eliminate the presidential approval requirement and limit opportunities for judicial review.

“I want to see this pipeline built, but it will not be under this scenario,” said West Virginia’s Nick J. Rahall II, the ranking Democrat on the panel. “Deeming a permit application approved for a foreign country? We don’t even do that for domestic companies. ”

Republicans, pointing to the five years of review already completed, said the language was necessary so the project would not fall victim to additional delays.

“The continued delays show that the president is more interested in supporting radical environmental views than helping the struggling middle class,” said Republican Larry Bucshon of Indiana, a strong proponent of the pipeline.

Rahall offered an amendment that would eliminate from the bill the section deeming the northern route permit approved, but the amendment was rejected 25-32.

The administration approved construction of the southern portion of the pipeline running from the border of Nebraska to the Gulf Coast and released a draft environmental impact statement in February on a new northern route that would avoid most of the Sand Hills.

Another area of contention was a provision that would grant jurisdiction for legal challenges to the pipeline to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“What we are doing here is allowing the legitimate issues of the parties to be litigated by a court of remarkably qualified jurisdiction, but removing the abuse of process,” said Patrick Meehan, R-Pa.

Democrat Steve Cohen of Tennessee offered an amendment to strike the judicial review limitations from the bill; it was rejected 27-31.

Panel members also clashed over changes the bill would make to environmental review requirements. The bill would deem a 2011 State Department environmental impact statement to satisfy National Environmental Policy Act (PL 91-190) requirements and would also deem water ways permits granted by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers approved within 90 days.

Democrat Tim Walz of Minnesota, who has supported iterations of Keystone project proposals in the past and hails from the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, urged the committee to move forward carefully.

“We want this bill. We want it done,” he said before voting “no” on the measure on Thursday. “But the worst thing you can do is build this thing and then have a problem. Then we set back all the progress we made together.

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