WASHINGTON — The House Transportation Committee voted Thursday to send a Keystone XL pipeline authorization bill to the floor, likely reviving, for the first time this session, one of the biggest partisan policy battles of the last two years.
The Republican-backed bill would fast-track the oil pipeline project by taking the permitting process out of the Obama administration’s hands, potentially unhinging it from a State Department environmental impact assessment that has delayed the project. Transportation Committee Democrats warned that in bypassing the permitting process, the bill would remove important environmental safeguards, so most of them, including Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan, voted against the bill.
The National Republican Congressional Committee called hypocrisy, releasing a short video showing Nolan telling constituents he supports the pipeline. “Lying to constituents?” an NRCC spokeswoman said in a statement. “That’s not Minnesota nice.”
Nolan said in a statement that he does support the project and believes “Keystone will be approved in a safe and responsible manner.” But he echoed other Democratic criticisms of the GOP’s bill:
“I have always maintained that Keystone must abide by the normal permitting process for construction, maintenance, environmental regulations, tax liability and clean-up policies. The same rules and regulations by which U.S. corporations must abide. The bill as presented would permanently exempt a foreign corporation from all U.S. environmental regulations and requirements to pay for any oil spill cleanup. By abandoning all of the laws necessary to maintain the pipeline in a safe way, the bill would invite companies to save money by abandoning normal protections and safeguards, and lead to reckless construction and maintenance. All in all, it is a recipe for disaster.”
This is a pretty minor dust-up between the NRCC and one its old targets, but it’s also a preview of the type of politicking likely to come from a new congressional fight over Keystone. The Republican bill is likely to come to House floor next week, so expect to see Keystone politics ramp up rather quickly.
The pipeline is slated to run oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast in Texas. Republicans have long called the project a jobs engine, though there is some debate over what its economic impact would actually be.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.