Friday, November 14, 2014

US House or Representatives passes Keystone XL pipeline approval bill

- The U.S. House of Representatives controlled by Republicans easily passed a bill that approves the Keystone XL pipeline that also circumvents the need to get presidential approval for the project.



The legislation approving the $8 billion dollar project passed by a vote of 252 votes to 161. Joining all 221 Republicans who voted for the bill were 31 Democrats. Supporters claim the bill will also pass in Senate although this is certainly not assured as at least one source claims that one more vote was needed to pass Senate to garner the 60 votes to overcome any attempt to block passage through a fillibuster. The Senate is expected to take up the bill on Tuesday.
 The Keystone XL pipeline would transport oil from the Canadian Tar Sands in the province of Alberta to the US Gulf Coast. Since the pipeline will cross the US border the line must be approved by the US government. A description of the project and its history can be found here.
 While supporters of the pipeline, including some unions, claim construction of the line would create many jobs among other benefits, environmentalists claim the number of jobs created is inflated and that the pipeline will indirectly elevate carbon emissions through the increased production from the Alberta Tar or Oil Sands. Obama has threatened to veto any approval in the past as he wants to wait for the outcome of a legal case over the route of the pipeline in Nebraska. After the ruling the State Department can complete its own evaluation of the project.
 The Democrats face problems when the Keystone bill comes to the Senate. The bill is sponsored not only by Republican John Hoeven from North Dakota but also Democrat Mary Landrieu from Lousiana. The sponsor of the House bill was Republican Bill Cassidy also of Louisiana. Cassidy will face Landrieu on December 6 in a runoff election for Senate. Democrats will need to decide if they want to help out their fellow Democratic Senator by voting for the bill or vote against it. Even if the bill does not pass the Senate now it will probably pass after the Republicans take over control in January since after the mid-term elections they gained control of the body. At present, the Republicans need the support of 15 Democrats to push through the legislation.
Republicans and Democrats both touted their role in bringing the bill before the Senate. Landrieu pushed for the vote in Senate to show she supported the project, as it is quite popular in Louisiana. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, on the other hand claimed progress on the bill was due to Republican sponsor John Hoeven:"We never would have gotten to this point without the tireless leadership of Sen. Hoeven in the Senate, and Congressman Cassidy in the House. Like the experts, Sen. Hoeven also knows that Keystone would also have almost zero net effect on our climate."
 Obama maintains that the pipeline would not help lower gas prices in the US claiming that it only provides Canada the ability to send its oil to the Gulf and export it elsewhere as shown on the appended video. Duane Bratt, chair of the Department of Policy Studies at Mount Royal University, is quite critical of Obama's remarks: "There is so much wrong with that statement. It ignores the undercapacity of U.S. refineries. Having additional oil coming into U.S. refineries is good for them." He points out as well that most Canadian oil is not shipped to China and Asia but is sold in the US. He might have mentioned as well that most of the oil sands producers are not even Canadian owned: More than two-thirds of all oil sands production in Canada is owned by foreign entities, sending a majority of the industry’s profits out of the country, says a new analysis released Thursday by a British Columbia-based conservation group Oil analyst Jackie Forrest pointed out that Gulf Coast refineries in the US need heavy oil: “There is a shortage of heavy oil. If we can get our oil to the Gulf Coast, there is a market for it there.”
 Environmentalists will see Obama's reactions to these events as a test of his commitment to address the issue of climate change. The Republicans accept a State Department report this January that the pipeline would not significantly add to carbon emissions since if the pipeline were not built the oil would be transported by truck and rail which could cause even more environmental problems.

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