Senate Committee to Vote on Bill to Approve Keystone Project

OMAHA (DTN) -- Though a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would traverse farm and ranch lands in the Nebraska Sandhills is unlikely to come from the Obama administration ahead of the November elections, a U.S. Senate committee is set to vote on legislation this week that would approve the project which already has been given the green light by the U.S. State Department.

The legislation introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., will be up for a vote in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Wednesday.

Farmers and ranchers in Nebraska have expressed strong opposition to the project at public hearings and other events held across the state in the past few years. A state law that gave the Nebraska governor authority to re-route the pipeline around the ecologically sensitive Sandhills region, has been tied up in legal limbo as opponents of the pipeline have contended there is no acceptable route.

The Senate measure has garnered bipartisan support, but indications are it may fall short of the necessary 60 votes to bring it to a vote of the full Senate. In addition, the measure likely would be vetoed by the president.

The American Petroleum Institute continued to push Senate leaders Monday to bring the bill to the full body.

Jack Gerard, president and chief executive officer of the American Petroleum Institute said during a conference call Monday that growing unrest in the Ukraine and in Iraq should bring a renewed focus on the need for lawmakers to secure North American energy sources.

"The growing crisis in the Middle East, as well as ongoing tensions in Ukraine, makes clearer than ever that we cannot stand in the way of smart decisions today that will help to secure a stable supply of energy for our nation in the future," he said.

"The administration has demonstrated it lacks the political leadership to take the steps necessary to make U.S. energy security a reality. And some lawmakers in Congress would like to hide behind the president on the Keystone pipeline. We cannot stand by while the administration waits -- and waits -- until it is politically convenient to do the right thing."

The bill formally recognizes the U.S. State Department's final environmental impact statement released in January that concludes construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would have no significant effect on the environment. In addition, the EIS said the pipeline would have no bearing on whether oil from Alberta, Canada, would move to market.

Hoeven said in a news release in May that the measure has the support of all 45 Republican senators. As of Monday the bill has drawn the support of 11 Democratic senators, as well. Still, the bill would require 60 votes to pass.

"Congress needs to make a decision because the administration has delayed making its decision indefinitely," Hoeven said in a statement upon the introduction of the bill.

While TransCanada waits for the U.S. to approve the Keystone, the Canadian government is expected to make a decision any day on a proposal by Enbridge Inc. to build a pipeline from Alberta to Canada's west coast.

API's Gerard said Monday that lawmakers need to take leadership where the Obama administration has not.

"Some lawmakers in Congress would like to hide behind the president on the Keystone pipeline," he said. "They claim to seek more study of the issue even after five reviews by the State department showing no significant environmental impact from building the pipeline. The American people reject that view -- with poll after poll showing overwhelming public support for moving forward with the pipeline and the over 42,000 jobs it will create."

Gerard cited a recent poll that showed 70% of voters polled support building Keystone XL. It found that 68% would be more likely to support a candidate who supports approving Keystone XL.

"The state department's latest findings also show that moving crude oil via this pipeline would provide clear environmental advantages," Gerard said. "It's worth noting that a well-functioning energy supply and distribution system will still require long-term investments in all forms of critical infrastructure. But the president is focused on carbon emissions, and the Keystone project will help move our country toward his goals."

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