WASHINGTON – House Republicans pushed through a bill Wednesday to bypass the president to speed approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. Democrats criticized the legislation as a blatant attempt to allow a foreign company to avoid environmental review.
The bill was approved, 241-175, largely along party lines.
Republicans said the measure was needed to ensure that the long-delayed pipeline, first proposed in 2008, is built.
"This is the most studied pipeline in the history of mankind," said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., the bill's sponsor.
"When is enough enough?" added Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. "Five years? Six years? Ten years?"
But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., called the bill a "reckless attempt to avoid environmental review." The bill would deem the project approved without a presidential permit, as required under current law, and with no further environmental review. The legislation also would limit legal challenges to the project.
The White House says President Barack Obama opposes the bill because it would "circumvent longstanding and proven processes" by removing the requirement for a presidential permit.
The $7 billion pipeline, proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada, would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. The 1,700-mile pipeline would travel though Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma on its way to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas.
Supporters say the pipeline would create thousands of jobs, help lower fuel prices and bolster North American energy resources.
Opponents call the project a "carbon bomb" that would carry "dirty oil" that could trigger global warming. They also worry about a spill. Converting tar sands into oil can uses as much as 15 percent more energy than conventional oil production.
Obama has twice thwarted the pipeline project amid concerns about a proposed route through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska, even as the White House approved a southern portion of the project from Oklahoma to Texas. The bill approved by the House would apply to an 875-mile portion of the pipeline from Canada to Nebraska.
The State Department, which has completed more than 15,000 pages of environmental review on the proposed pipeline over the years, said in a draft report this spring that the project was unlikely to cause significant environmental impact to most resources along the planned route. The report also said other options to move the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, such as trucks or rail cars, would be far worse for climate change.
The State Department expects to issue a final report this summer. The department has authority over the pipeline because it crosses a U.S. border.
This latest attempt to speed the pipeline marks at least the fourth time the House has tried to do so.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., defended the House actions, even though the Keystone bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"There may be a few of my colleagues who are tired of Keystone bills, but the American people are also tired -- tired of $3.70 a gallon gasoline, tired of unemployment above 7 percent, and tired of four years of delays that continue to block this critical jobs and energy project," Upton said.