Though the Nebraska Supreme Court allowed to stand a law that allows the governor to approve the route for the Keystone XL pipeline, a U.S. senator Tuesday went on the offensive, saying during floor debate that TransCanada hasn’t been made to follow the process in the Cornhusker state.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said only one public hearing was held in 2012, TransCanada was not required to follow an approval process outlined by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, and the new state law specifically carved out an exemption to the process for one particular company.
“I don’t agree with the process moving forward to proceed with the Keystone pipeline bill,” she said. “They are talking about a 19th century energy policy with fossil fuel. I want us to be focusing on a broader energy debate in Congress. This is about a special interest deal.”
Cantwell said Congress should instead be creating energy tax credits to spark the development of a variety of alternative energy industries. “I don’t think anybody in America thinks we’re going to hold to a 19th century policy forever,” she said. “People have been trying to hurry this along for a special interest. I don’t understand why TransCanada can’t play by the rules. My colleagues here would like to argue this has been a long process. You have to ask yourself why. Do you have confidence the public interest was taken into consideration?”
Senate Democrats made it clear Tuesday the Keystone bill should be rejected because of concerns the pipeline could exacerbate climate change, despite the U.S. State Department’s conclusion the pipeline would not increase greenhouse gas emissions. Exactly when the Senate could vote on the bill remains to be seen, as debate continued throughout the day on Tuesday.
The Obama administration maintains it will veto any legislation directed to Keystone, arguing the federal process should be completed first.
PLAYING ‘SMALL BALL’
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that by Republicans making Keystone their highest priority, though it would create 35 permanent jobs, is playing “small ball” on national energy policy. Despite State Department analysis, he said, the project would increase GHG emissions.
“Keystone XL is not the first Canadian tar sands pipeline,” Durbin said. A Chicago company in his district generates petroleum coke, a waste product from refining tar sands oil that creates an odor in neighborhoods.
“Keystone XL doesn’t move us away from a dangerous tipping point we have with global warming,” he said. “I believe the Republican Party is the only major political party that denies climate change… This bill denies that reality as well.”
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., sponsor of the Keystone legislation, said the decision to approve the pipeline is an “obvious” one.
“Building the Keystone XL is better for the environment than not building it,” he said. Hoeven said arguments against building it are “phony” environmental arguments. “The story here is about more than a single pipeline. It is about a regulatory process that is clearly broken. The process should be simple and not controversial.”
Hoeven said it was “disturbing” to see any infrastructure project held up for “so long.” TransCanada first announced the Keystone project back in 2008. Since then, the pipeline has faced a number of delays, in part because it would be a pipeline that crosses international boundaries.
He said when it comes to environmentalists who oppose the project, “the balance and consideration of the facts no longer matter.”
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said the project would benefit constituents even though the pipeline would not traverse across Arkansas. That’s because a local steel company would help to supply the project.
“Time and again, this project passes the test, but the president keeps delaying,” Boozman said.
Hoeven said all states have approved the project. The Obama administration’s delay on making a decision on Keystone was indicative of a ‘broken’ process, he said.
“We can’t hold private investment up,” Hoeven said. “Not one penny of federal investment here. How can we argue there’s any kind of process? This project goes through states, Montana to Texas. Not just Canadian crude, but this moves domestic crude as well. We’ve been putting more and more crude on rail. The state legislature in Nebraska went to work with the governor, went through a long process, re-routed the pipeline and approved it.
“We’re for an all-of-the-above energy approach, but we have to get over the idea that they’re mutually exclusive. This does not preclude any other energy source. Let’s do them both.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said the Keystone project was not about pipelines. “If it was, we wouldn’t have hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines,” he said. “This is about greenhouse gas emissions concerns.”
Canada is going to develop tar sands oil with or without the pipeline, Manchin said. “Let’s say we do nothing here,” he said. “It is likely crude is shipped west by rail or tanker. The U.S. State Department’s own analysis found that GHG emissions would increase by 22% to 48% if the pipeline isn’t built.”
Manchin said if senators who support the pipeline want to get a veto-proof 68 votes on the bill, they should agree to several amendments. It is expected Democrats will offer a number of amendments including one to require TransCanada to pay into the oil spill trust fund, require the project be built using American-made steel and that oil from the pipeline stay in North America.
Hoeven said the administration continues to oppose federal legislation to build the pipeline until the federal approval process is completed, then the president “needs to demonstrate the process. He needs to tell us he’s going to follow the process, then he needs to make decision in favor of the process,” Hoeven said.
Cantwell said the reason why the president has not approved the project is because the process hasn’t been followed.
“This legislation ensures that status quo in Nebraska will stand,” she said. “The use of eminent domain will be law. You don’t try to answer the questions we think the state department should answer.”
Despite the outcry from environmental groups and some landowners in Nebraska, TransCanada already has acquired 84% of the Nebraska land necessary to build the pipeline, according to the company.