Jun 25 3:25 PM

House passes pipeline bill with eye toward Keystone XL, midterm campaigns

Weld shacks sit over pipe joints during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Atoka, Oklahoma, in 2013. The Gulf Coast Project, a 485-mile crude oil pipeline being constructed by TransCanada Corp., is part of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project and will run from Cushing, Oklahoma to Nederland, Texas.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House of Representatives passed the North American Energy Infrastructure Act Tuesday night, 238-173, with 17 Democrats joining all but one Republican in an attempt to circumvent executive branch authority on oil pipelines like the proposed Keystone XL.

The act sets a 120-day deadline on State Department approvals of fuel pipeline projects that span the Canadian or Mexican border. The bill also asserts that all permits must be approved unless they are not found to be in the “public interest.”

The House legislation applies to new proposals only, and so technically would not include Keystone XL — the proposed tar sands pipeline that would run south from Canada through several northern states to connect with another pipeline already pushing oil toward refineries and export hubs in Texas — or any other pipelines currently under review. But opponents of the bill have argued that nothing would prevent Keystone from resubmitting the XL project again under the new law — and proponents of the act made no secret of their desire to force through approval on KXL.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, saying in a White House statement that the legislation “would impose an unreasonable deadline that would curtail the thorough consideration of the issues involved, which could result in serious security, safety, foreign policy, environmental, economic, and other ramifications,” as well as prevent needed infrastructure assessments.

The administration has repeatedly delayed a decision on the Keystone pipeline, which is currently not expected see a final resolution until after the November elections. While many Republican lawmakers, along with petroleum interests and a few labor groups, argue the pipeline project would create jobs, opponents have said the employment estimates are inflated while the grave environmental consequences could not be overstated.

The Keystone XL pipeline concerns environmentalists both because of the devastating potential of a large spill of the thick bitumen, and because of the climate warming implications of developing these carbon-rich oil reserves.

The bill has little chance in the Senate, so Wednesday’s vote is seen more as an attempt to provide GOP candidates with a campaign issue for the midterm elections. Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking member of House Energy and Commerce Committee has dubbed the bill the “Zombie Pipeline Act.”

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