President Obama has been holding up the Keystone XL Pipeline. Could Congress go ahead and clear it for construction–and prevent environmental activists from tying the project in litigation if it gets the green light?
That’s the question at tomorrow’s Energy and Commerce Committee Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing. The subcommittee will be marking up Representative Lee Terry (R–NE) Northern Route Approval Act. The legislation removes the final decision from President Obama’s hands and approves the pipeline by deeming the State Department’s first environmental review as satisfying all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.
TransCanada first announced it wanted to build this project in January 2008. Five years later, we still need the energy, the jobs, and the economic activity.
Representative Lee’s bill does what The Heritage Foundation has been saying ever since this project turned from a decision about a pipeline to a political football. Since the State Department’s first environmental review concluded the Keystone XL pipeline would have no significant environmental impact, it would be a good idea for Congress to authorize the pipeline application submitted by TransCanada pursuant to its authority to regulate commerce with other nations.
While any legislation would still have to be signed into law by President Obama—and therefore require a presidential permit by a different name—the support for Keystone XL on both sides of the aisle from both chambers of Congress has been overwhelming. The House of Representatives has passed a number of bills approving construction that have received the support of 69 Democrats. In the Senate, a non-binding budget amendment vote approved the project’s construction by a 62–37 margin, which included 15 Democrats. Despite bipartisan support and a second State Department environmental review that essentially reiterated the first review, President Obama has yet to act.
The Northern Route Approval Act is important for several other reasons. Even if President Obama grants Keystone XL the presidential permit, environmental activists adamantly opposed to the project will almost certainly bring legal challenges to delay or prevent the pipeline’s construction. Representative Lee’s bill creates a 60-day deadline for filing a claim and limits these challenges.
In addition, the Northern Route Approval Act ensures that the environmental review satisfies all requirements for the Endangered Species Act, which has been an important tool for environmental activists stopping economic activity. As Heritage’s Rob Gordon writes, “Federally regulated invertebrates and plants now outnumber the total number of listed mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish combined—and, the latter often fail to clear the majestic hurdle themselves.”
In the instance of Keystone XL, the issue is the American burying beetle. As Gordon points out, this is less about the American burying beetle and more about stopping the flow of oil from our friendly neighbor to the north. Even so, Congressman Lee’s bill does not delist the beetle, but merely “issues an incidental take permit for the American burying beetle for the construction and operation of the pipeline.”
President Obama has stalled Keystone XL’s construction and thus prevented increased energy supply and job creation for far too long. The Northern Route Approval Act would not only set those wheels in motion but prevent other problematic hurdles for Keystone from occurring.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog referred to the Northern Route Approval Act as the Northern Approval Act.