Thursday, June 28, 2012

Transportation Bill: Keystone XL Pipeline Out, Senior Aide Says

A Republican proposal forcing quick approval of the Canada-to-U.S. Keystone oil pipeline will not be part of a massive transportation funding bill the U.S. Congress is trying to pass by week's end, a senior Democratic aide said on Wednesday.

"Keystone is out," said the aide, who asked not to be identified. The aide added that while House-Senate negotiators are close to an overall deal on the transportation bill, they have not yet wrapped it up.

The House of Representatives and the Senate aim to pass the bill by Friday to fund road, bridge and mass transit funding projects.

If a deal falls through, lawmakers were expected to pass a short-term extension for current transportation funding levels.

"A lot of work that's gone into this, it's not finished yet. But it is clear that there are significant reforms in this bill," House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner told reporters earlier on Wednesday.

The package is also expected to include a one-year, $6 billion fix to prevent a doubling of interest rates for about 7.4 million students with Stafford loans to help pay their college costs.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we can end this week tomorrow even, with a little bit of luck - but we may not be able to," said Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader.

"We have to see what happens in the next 24 hours, which will be key," Reid said.


The subject of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline was one of the thorniest issues before negotiators during weeks of talks - but was one of the very last topics to be tackled.

President Barack Obama ruled earlier this year that more environmental reviews were needed for all but the southernmost tip of the 1,700-mile-long (2,736 km) pipeline, which would carry crude from Canada's oilsands to Texas.

The White House has said Obama would veto a bill that overrides his decision.

Republicans have championed the pipeline's cause ahead of the November presidential and congressional elections, arguing that it would create much-needed construction jobs and panning Obama for stalling it.

The Keystone measure has passed in the House four times, but narrowly failed a Senate vote in March.

Republicans pushed hard for other concessions in the transportation funding bill, which is based on a two-year, $109 billion package passed by the Senate.

Boehner told reporters the deal would include "significant reforms" to streamline environmental reviews for certain highway projects, and reduce the number of programs in the highway bill, focusing spending on core transportation projects rather than directing money toward roadside landscaping and other ancillary programs.

The deal will include provisions to ensure that 80 percent of fines imposed on BP after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will go to Gulf coast communities, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who was on the negotiating panel, said in a tweet.

There was also a last-minute push to include a compromise to ease proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations for coal ash, a byproduct used in cement, an industry source said.

U.S. Grants a Keystone Pipeline Permit


President Obama pledging to green-light a southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline at a pipeyard near Cushing, Okla., in March
The Obama administration, moving swiftly on the president’s promise to expedite the southernmost portion of the disputed Keystone XL pipeline, has granted construction permits for part of the route passing through Texas, officials said on Tuesday.

The Army Corps of Engineers on Monday told TransCanada, which wants to build a 1,700-mile pipeline to carry heavy crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, that it could begin construction on the portion of the proposed pipeline that would end at the gulf port of Nederland, Tex. The Corps of Engineers is still reviewing permits for a section of the pipeline beginning at a major oil depot in Cushing, Okla., and linking up with the final leg ending at the gulf.

In January, President Obama denied TransCanada permission to build the northern part of the pipeline from Canada to Oklahoma, saying Congress had not given him sufficient time to review the environmental impact. But at a political appearance in March in Oklahoma, he announced he was taking steps to speed approval of the portion of the project running from Cushing to the gulf to relieve a bottleneck in oil supplies at the Oklahoma oil terminal.

The president also invited the company to resubmit its application for the rest of the pipeline. The company did so in early May.

2:14 p.m. | Updated TransCanada said Tuesday that it welcomed the permits and was awaiting approvals from the two other Corps of Engineers districts that must rule on the remaining 400 miles of pipeline route beginning in Cushing.

“We continue to believe that we will be in a position to begin construction later this summer and are working with the Corps and others to secure the approvals and permits we require,” the company said in a statement. “Once the gulf coast project is completed, it will help move both Canadian and American oil to refineries on the gulf coast, where it is critically needed.”
It will help push out oil from OPEC nations or conflict regions and replace it with safe, secure and reliable access to Canadian and American oil,” it added. “It will help remove the bottleneck that currently exists in Cushing, which is impacting American producers.”

Environmental advocates and some local landowner groups strongly opposed the pipeline, citing the dangers of possible spills and saying that the oil it would carry, extracted from tar sands formations in northern Canada, was a major contributor to greenhouse gas pollution.

More than 10,000 protesters surrounded the White House on Sunday calling on President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The protest came exactly a year before the 2012 election and the pipeline is shaping up to be a major political issue. Last week, President Obama said for the first time he will make the final decision on whether to approve the controversial 1,700-mile pipeline proposed by TransCanada, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands fields to refineries in Texas. Up until now, Obama said the final decision rested with the State Department. "[Sunday protest] really underlines this has become not only the biggest environmental flash point in many years, but maybe the issue in recent times in the Obama administration when he has been most directly confronted by people in the street," said leading environmentalist Bill McKibben, a key organizer in the protest, to Democracy Now! Nov. 7.

For the complete interview, read the transcript, download the podcast, and for information on Democracy Now! and more reports on the Keystone XL pipeline, visit

Election year politics confusing a vital American decision. These are my sentiments:

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