Congressional Action on Keystone XL Shows Momentum Continues to Grow

After the House last week overwhelmingly approved legislation supporting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline with a strong bipartisan vote, a Washington Post article asked the question,  “Is Keystone Pipeline Losing Democratic Support?”

The answer is no. In fact, exactly the opposite is true: over the past few months, Congressional debate and public polls have clearly shown that momentum for building Keystone XL continues to grow from both sides of the political spectrum.   But that’s not what the Washington Post article would like you to believe, as one Post reporter (again) hypes the spin from opponents of Keystone XL:

On Wednesday night, the House passed Terry’s bill by a vote of 241 to 175, with 19 Democrats voting in favor.  But on May 18, 2012 the House voted 261 to 152 in favor of a motion by Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), which would have done essentially the same thing: order the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a permit for the pipeline within 30 days of receiving an application from TransCanada.

What explains the loss of 20 yes votes? Eight Democrats switched their votes, and a more liberal freshman class replaced some of the House’s more conservative members. Reps. John D. Dingell (Mich.), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), David Loebsack (Iowa), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), Albio Sires (N.J.) and Timothy Walz (Minn.) all voted aye for Barrow’s motion last year, and against Terry’s measure on Wednesday. Meanwhile, 42 of the 47 Democratic members of the freshman class opposed Terry’s bill.

Of course, many of these House Democrats have clearly stated that they want the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, but had issues with this particular bill – it’s a classic move: search for any pretext available to vote against the bill in order to appease both sides.   As Bloomberg BNA reported,

A number of Democrats, including Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), said they supported the pipeline project but could not vote for the Republican-drafted bill because of provisions that would limit judicial review and weaken environmental and safety regulations.

Greenwire, too, reported that:

Democrats — including some who support the pipeline — have said they cannot vote for the House bill because it would circumvent the permitting process and provide Keystone XL with exemptions that are not available to other projects. ‘This bill is a bridge way too far,’ said Rep. Tim Walz at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s markup last week. The Minnesota Democrat said he supported the project but wanted it to go through the usual channels. ‘Don’t make this a political statement that dies here,’ he said.

It’s not difficult to see why Keystone XL opponents are worried. As Congress put the spotlight on the four-and-a-half-year review by this administration to approve the pipeline, several developments came to the fore:

  • A national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted in March found that “Support for the pipeline spans most demographic and partisan groups. Substantial majorities of Republicans (82%) and independents (70%) favor building the Keystone XL pipeline, as do 54% of Democrats.”
  • Ahead of the HR3 vote, the House Energy and Commerce Committee noted the dozens of newspaper editorial boards from communities across the country – from the Chicago Tribune to the Billings Gazette to Bloomberg – called on President Obama to approve the pipeline to create jobs and strengthen our energy security.
  • Over the last few weeks, Energy and Commerce Committee also received 27 letters of support for the bill from both union and trade groups including the AFL-CIO, the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the International Union of Operating Engineers.  As President of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO Sean McGarvey put it, “The American construction industry has suffered greatly.  The national unemployment rate for construction workers remains above 13 percent and far too many of our members have lost homes and are struggling to put food on the table.  The Keystone XL project will create tens of thousands of good paying jobs here in the United States and Canada.  For many members of our unions, Keystone XL is not just a pipeline; it is, in the most literal sense, a lifeline.”
  • Over the past few months, Keystone XL opponents were even abandoned by usually supportive media outlets, as we pointed out in a previous post.

And don’t forget that just two months ago, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment to approve the pipeline by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 62 to 37.  Here are some examples of what Senate Democrats said:

  • Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.): “When it comes to the Keystone pipeline, it’s not a matter of if it’s going to be built-it’s a matter of when, and where.”
  • Mary Landrieu (D-La.): “I see this pipeline as a transition. It’s giving us oil from one our closest, most dependable and friendliest of all allies - Canada - as opposed to pushing us over the next five or 10 years to continuing to do business with countries that do not share our values, like the leadership unfortunately, in Venezuela today, or the problems with countries in the Mideast.”
  • Senator Baucus (D-Mont.): “Approving the Keystone Pipeline is the perfect opportunity to put Americans to work right now. American workers cannot afford to wait any longer for Keystone jobs, and there is absolutely no excuse for further delay.”
  • Senator Heitkamp (D-N.D.): “I support this amendment because the Keystone XL pipeline will create good-paying American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. This project has undergone a thorough review and it is time to approve construction of the pipeline.”
  • Senator Begich (D-Alaska): “The Keystone XL pipeline will give our economy an added boost by creating thousands of jobs and securing a reliable energy supply close to home. Today’s effort is another call for the administration to stop dragging its feet and get to work on this critical project.”
  • Senator Manchin (D-W. Va.): “As our economy continues to recover, there’s no dispute that the Keystone XL Pipeline would create good-paying jobs right here at home. Not only is the pipeline’s construction good for our economy, but it helps move us closer to our goal of achieving North American energy independence right here, right now.”
  • Senator Pryor (D-Ark.): “The route has been approved and the studies have been completed,” Pryor said in a news release. “The president has been sitting on this valuable opportunity for far too long. Our bill gives Congress the authority it needs to move forward with this vital project and create jobs here at home.”
  • Senator Hagan (D-NC): “Now that Nebraska has approved an alternative route, I encourage President Obama to quickly approve the Keystone XL Pipeline that will create thousands of American jobs while providing energy security for our country.”

From polls to editorials to letters of support to votes, Congressional action on Keystone XL over the past few months demonstrated that a majority on both sides of the aisle are supportive of the project.  So it’s not surprising that opponents are grasping at any small straw to try to convince the public they’re not.

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