Keystone pipeline issue still smolders, but backers lose some support in House
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords leans forward as her husband, retired space shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, adjusts her mortarboard as they ride in the procession for the 153rd Commencement at Bard College, Saturday, May 25, 2013, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. They delivered the commencement address, and Giffords received an honorary degree. (AP Photo/Philip Kamrass)
The most interesting aspect of this week’s House vote in favor of constructing the Keystone XL pipeline was not that it passed, which was widely expected, but that it got 20 fewer votes than a similar proposal one year ago.
The bill introduced by Rep. Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, would grant the remaining permits the energy infrastructure company TransCanada needs to construct the massive project, which aims to ship heavy crude oil from Canada’s oil sands region to Gulf Coast refineries in the United States. The Obama administration has already awarded the needed permits for the project’s southern leg between Steele City, Okla., and Port Arthur, Texas, but the president has yet to decide whether to sign off on the northern leg, which begins in Alberta. President Obama has authority to issue the permit, rather than Congress, because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.
An array of groups, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Iron and Steel Institute, back the project as a way to create short-term construction jobs and ensure a steady supply of oil. Environmentalists and some landowners along the route, however, argue the pipeline could cause damaging spills and will accelerate climate change.
On Wednesday night, the House passed Terry’s bill by a vote of 241 to 175, with 19 Democrats voting in favor. But on May 18, 2012, the House voted 261 to 152 in favor of a motion by Rep. John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat, which would have done essentially the same thing: order the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a permit for the pipeline within 30 days of receiving an application from TransCanada.
What explains the loss of 20 yes votes? Eight Democrats switched their votes, and a more liberal freshman class replaced some of the House’s more conservative members. Some, including Reps. John Dingell of Michigan, David Loebsack of Iowa, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, voted for Barrow’s motion last year and against Terry’s measure Wednesday.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat and a fierce critic of the pipeline, said in an interview shortly before the final vote that she was pleased that moderate Democrats were willing to defend Obama’s right to make a final decision. “Even proponents of the pipeline . . . are casting a no vote because of the process,” she said.
One of the most interesting flips was Lynch, who lost his bid to become the Democratic candidate for the open Senate seat in Massachusetts after he was targeted by a coalition of environmentalists over his support for Keystone.
In a statement, Lynch called Terry’s bill “a blatant attempt to strip President Obama of his authority to conduct meaningful review of that project.”
Even though the White House opposed Terry’s bill – it threatened Tuesday to veto it – it remains hard to predict what the president will do once the issue reaches his desk.