US House bill would move Keystone XL permit decision to FERC

US House Republicans joined their Senate colleagues on Dec. 2 in urging US President Barack Obama to reverse his Nov. 11 decision to delay acting on TransCanada Corp.’s cross-border permit application for the project until after the 2012 elections. Actions included introduction of legislation that would transfer authority for approving or denying the permit from the US Department of State to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Just a few yards from scoring the go-ahead touchdown, the administration called a 14-month timeout,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) said as the committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee began a hearing on the proposed system to move more crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands deposits to US Gulf Coast refineries.

“This president had a chance to green light a private-sector project that would immediately create 20,000 high-wage construction jobs, strengthen our nation’s energy security, and create an additional 118,000 spin-off jobs,” Upton maintained. “But he didn’t do it. Instead, he placed election-year politics above jobs and the good of the country.”

Lee Terry (Neb.), a subcommittee member, introduced HR 3548 that he said would create a structured process by which FERC could approve the pipeline, including a route modification to be worked out with Nebraska. Several officials, ranchers, and residents had expressed concern about the project passing through the Sandhills area atop the Ogallala Aquifer, the state’s primary underground drinking water supply. Obama announced the permit delay on Nov. 11 after Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) called the legislature into special session to address the matter.

‘Understands pipelines’

Terry said his bill would enable construction of the proposed pipeline’s non-Nebraska portion while details and approval of a route modification in Nebraska are worked out. “Going forward with FERC is simply moving the authority to an agency that understands pipelines,” he explained.

He offered his measure 2 days after US Sen. Richard D. Lugar (R-Ind.) introduced a bill that would deem the proposed Keystone XL pipeline federally approved 60 days after enactment if the Obama administration did not act. Several of the bill’s 37 cosponsors said they would rather see the president reverse his delay decision instead.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans agreed. Ed Whitfield (Ky.), chairman of its Energy and Power Subcommittee, said that the administration “was relentlessly insistent” that a decision would be made by Dec. 13. “Now, [it says that it’s] incapable of making a decision before 2013,” he continued in his opening statement at the subcommittee’s hearing. “In the meantime, tens of thousands of American workers are forced to wait at least another year for possibly the most shovel-ready of all projects.”

Witnesses from organized labor urged action to get the project moving so their members could go to work. “Joblessness in construction is far higher than any industry sector, with over 1.1 million construction workers currently unemployed in the United States,” noted Brent Bookers, construction department director at the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “Too many hard-working Americans are out of work, and the Keystone XL pipeline will change that dire situation for thousands of them.”

The project would employ thousands of workers across the country, according to Bruce Burton, international representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “From pipe manufactured in Arkansas, pump motors assembled in Ohio, and transformers built in Pennsylvania, to the men and women who will actually work on the pipeline itself, workers from all over the United States would benefit from the project,” he declared. “The Keystone XL Pipeline project is shovel-ready. As soon as a presidential permit is granted, jobs would be created…that our country [and] our members desperately need.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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