Senate passes tax cut extension with Keystone XL provision

The US Senate approved a bill that would extend the payroll tax cut into 2012 on Dec. 17 in a rare Saturday session, but with a provision that would require US President Barack Obama to act on the Keystone XL pipeline project’s cross-border permit application within 60 days of enactment. Democrats and others opposing the provision immediately warned that the strategy could backfire.

“By insisting on an expedited review of the Keystone pipeline that will not allow for sufficient consideration of public health and safety concerns, Republicans have effectively killed the project,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said following the 89-10 vote.

“The Republican stampede to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is going to backfire. In forcing President Obama to reach a hasty decision—which he has said he would not do,” added Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the international program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a separate statement. “The president will have no choice but to reject the pipeline as not in the national interest.”

Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking minority member who introduced a bill on Nov. 30 with a similar 60-day requirement, disagreed. “This is a tremendous victory for our security and for creating jobs,” he said following the Dec. 17 vote. “It is absolutely incredible that President Obama wants to delay a decision until after the 2012 elections apparently in fear of offending a part of his political base and even risking the ire of construction unions who strongly support the project.”

The American Petroleum Institute and other groups campaigned in the days leading up to the Senate’s vote for the administration to approve the Keystone XL permit application soon. “A nation that fails to secure the energy its citizens and its economic engine need to keep functioning leaves itself vulnerable to external contingencies in a dangerous and uncertain world and to the whims of foreign leaders and other actors who may not always have its interests at heart,” retired US Army Gen. Jim Jones, the Obama administration’s former national security advisor, told reporters during a Dec. 16 API teleconference with reporters.

‘A process at work’

White House Press Sec. Jay Carney refused at that day’s press briefing to go beyond Obama’s Dec. 8 promise to block any effort to include a Keystone XL pipeline project decision requirement or other unrelated provisions in legislation to extend the payroll tax cut. The US Department of State is conducting further reviews of the Keystone XL project’s cross-border application, he continued. “There is a process at work. I’m not going to analyze what language would be acceptable and what wouldn’t. I will let the process run its course,” Carney said.

At DOS’s Dec. 16 daily briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also refused to speculate about possible consequences of the Senate’s passing a bill with a provision requiring a Keystone XL decision within 60 days of enactment.

“We have been in the process of jumping through all the hoops…to determine whether this is in the national interest, including working with all of the states that are affected and…where the pipeline passes through,” she said. “Grave environmental concerns came up in Nebraska, and Nebraskans, including the Republican governor, urged us to look at an alternative route. So we want to do that right. We want to get the appropriate environmental impact study of that before we can make a national interest determination.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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