A group of House lawmakers led by Republicans introduced legislation today that would bypass any Obama administration role in the Keystone XL pipeline and approve the project through Congress.
The bill, which would approve the pipeline using Congress’ authority to regulate U.S.-foreign commerce under the commerce clause, is a companion to a Senate bill fronted by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. It serves as the latest bill Republicans have floated as they try to approve the pipeline from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries after President Barack Obama denied a permit on Jan. 18.
Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., the bill’s lead sponsor, said the issue is “a failure by the president.”
Republicans are framing this bill, as they have with the others they’ve floated, as a way to chop out what they call President Obama’s political influence in the pipeline decision process.
“The president has an opportunity. He can either lead, follow or get out of the way,” Mack told reporters in the Capitol. “The president has decided he’s not going to lead on this issue. He’s decided he’s not going to follow on this issue, so we need to get him out of the way.”
The State Department recommended against a permit because a Feb. 21 deadline didn’t offer enough time to assess a new route in Nebraska around environmentally sensitive areas in that state. Obama said he agreed and let the department move forward, adding that the decision wasn’t based on the merits and TransCanada could reapply.
The company has said it plans to reapply in the coming months.
Republicans have repeatedly called that rationale for denying the permit baseless. They have accused Obama of putting off a decision that could split two of his constituencies: many labor unions that support the pipeline because of jobs and the environmentalists.
Mack’s measure faces uphill odds of becoming law as Democrats, including some who support Keystone XL, oppose the GOP bills. Additionally, another House measure sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., which would strip State Department authority and approve the pipeline through a different federal agency, has already gained traction as it cleared a House panel this week.
Mack acknowledged the other GOP bills exist: “I support them all. Anything we can do to get this done, but I think this is the best way to do it.” He also said he would take “any path that becomes available” to advance his bill.
Republican leaders have signaled they would insert Terry’s measure into legislation that would reauthorize surface-transportation programs if other avenues failed before the latter bill comes up. Some have said they’ll keep fighting to get language into a long-term extension of the payroll tax break.
But a Senate panel turned back an effort by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to insert Keystone XL language into that chamber’s transportation bill, casting doubt on the path forward for the GOP.
Although the Mack bill’s cosponsors are overwhelmingly Republican, he framed the bill as a “bipartisan effort.”
Mack’s bill has 52 other cosponsors, including 50 Republicans and two conservative Democrats, Reps. Larry Kissell, D-N.C., and Dan Boren, D-Okla. Hoeven has 43 other cosponsors, with the lone Democrat being Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.