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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)

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.

The tar sands are an environmental holocaust, the dirtiest source of oil in the world located in an area the size of Florida. Alberta tar sands are a blackened treeless moonscape that can be seen by satellite, in what used to be pristine and old growth boreal forest and wetlands. Spewing lakes of toxic sludge which routinely kills thousands of wildlife, by 2020 they are expected to emit more than 141 million tons of greenhouse gases – more than double that currently produced by all the cars and trucks in Canada. Alberta has the world's largest dam built to hold the toxic waste and sludge from just one tar sands operation. 350 million cubic metres is the volume of water currently allocated to the tar sands, the equivalent to the water required by a city of two million people. Alberta is now the industrial air pollution capital of Canada, with over one billion kilograms of emissions. Alberta wildlife and fish is being devastated and First Nation communities downstream of tar sands operation have been experiencing unprecedented rates of bile and colon cancer, lupus and other diseases from tar sands. This is what that criminal Harper is extorting and bribing other countries to accept. Environmental renegade doesn't begin to describe the Harper tyrant, he's sabotaged climate talks, massively polluted air and water, clearcut Canada, and engaged in horrific bloodbath massacres of wildlife. The pipeline would only make a few corporate billionaires in Canada and the US rich, create a total of 35 permanent jobs, people are being kicked off their properties because of it from Canadian companies using eminent domain on Americans, and the oil from that pipline would be shipped off to China after being refined by Texas refineries..aside from the Harper government's continuing destruction of Canada there is virtually no benefit to the American public from that insane pipeline, only massive harm.

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