Republicans aim to take Keystone XL decision out of Obama’s hands

The Northern Route Approval Act would give Congress the power to greenlight the pipeline.

WASHINGTON – The American political brawl over the approval of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline shifted into overdrive on Wednesday as Republicans in the House of Representatives made yet another attempt to take the decision out of US President Barack Obama’s hands.

Legislators voted 241-175 in favour of the Northern Route Approval Act, which would give Congress the power to greenlight the pipeline and nix the need for a presidential permit. The bill, however, faces a far less certain future in the Democrat-controlled US Senate.

As legislators debated the bill, their arguments fell along largely partisan lines – Republicans touted the jobs and energy independence that Keystone XL would purportedly create, while Democrats warned the proposal poses grave risks to the environment.

One pro-pipeline Democrat – Nick Rahall of West Virginia – said that while he supports Keystone XL, he cannot back a bill that attempts to do away with the permit process.

“Waiving permits for a foreign company? We don’t even do that for domestic companies,” he said on the House floor. “This bill’s a mockery.”

The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, saying it “seeks to circumvent long-standing and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest.”

Democrats in the House are attempting to trip up the bill by way of a handful of amendments, including one that would require any oil and refined product that is transported via Keystone XL to stay in the US.

Democrats have argued for years that rather than make the US less dependent on oil from hostile OPEC regimes, Keystone XL will allow Alberta oilsands bitumen to be exported abroad from the Gulf Coast.

Another Democratic amendment would require Calgary-based TransCanada to disclose its campaign contributions for the past five years before construction of Keystone XL proceeds.

Republicans, meantime, have long insisted that Congress has the authority under the US Constitution to regulate international commerce – and that includes the pipeline, they say, since it aims to carry oilsands bitumen from Canada into the US.

Environmentalists were universal in heaping scorn on the latest Republican attempt to force approval of the pipeline.

“This bill is nothing more than an effort to run roughshod over protections for landowners, wildlife and drinking water supplies so that TransCanada can get oil to Gulf coast refineries for export to China and other countries,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

North of the border, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has nearly doubled its spending on the promotion of Keystone XL, from $16.5 million from $9 million a year ago.

Its beefed-up efforts included Harper’s visit to New York last week to pitch the pipeline to the Council on Foreign Relations and in roundtables with U.S. business leaders.

©The Canadian Press