President Obama on Tuesday threatened to veto House Republican legislation that would reauthorize surface-transportation programs in part because the bill contains energy-related provisions including one to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
The bill to reauthorize surface-transportation programs through fiscal 2016 beyond March 31 includes measures that would require leases in new offshore areas, direct the Interior Department to issue commercial leases for oil-shale development and open up a small area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. It also contains a provision approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, for which the Obama administration denied a permit on Jan. 18.
The White House said the bill could threaten the environment and circumvent environmental review processes in the areas it would open to oil-and-gas production. That complaint comes in addition to other criticisms of the bill’s transportation provisions.
“This bill seeks to circumvent a longstanding process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest by mandating the permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline project despite the fact that the pipeline route has yet to be identified and there is no complete assessment of its potential impacts, including impacts on health and safety, the economy, foreign policy, energy security, and the environment,” a White House statement said.
Republicans have pushed furiously to approve the pipeline through legislative means. They have called the Obama administration’s denial of a permit a tactic to punt the politically challenging decision until after the election, and they also say it’s high time for a pipeline they contend would create jobs and bring needed oil from a friendly ally.
The veto threat came as Republicans planned to break apart the transportation package into pieces for separate consideration, after lawmakers filed nearly 300 amendments for the legislation, including more energy-related provisions.
“Republicans pledged to pass bills in a more transparent manner and reverse the era of quickly moving massive bills across the floor without proper examination,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., said in a joint statement.
The $260 billion legislation’s components went through various House panels en route to the floor, where they were merged into one bill. Now Republicans want separate debate and votes on the legislation’s transportation and energy components and on a third element that would fund some of the transportation spending by boosting public-employee contributions to pensions. The pieces would then be re-merged.
The GOP says the legislation would create millions of jobs and expand domestic energy production, all while paying for five years of surface transportation programs. “By breaking down government barriers to domestic energy production, it will ease rising gas prices and create up to a million new jobs,” Boehner said Thursday.
A House floor vote won’t come before lawmakers sort through the proposed amendments, many of which relate to energy.
Democrats planned to offer one amendent to eliminate tax breaks for the oil-and-gas industry and another to require the Keystone XL oil to stay in the U.S. unless the president says otherwise for security or economic reasons.
Republican energy amendments, meanwhile, sought to target environmental rules. One would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash and transfer the issue to the states.
It’s still unclear how many of these amendments will actually come up for consideration on the House floor. The House Rules Committee was scheduled today to screen them for floor consideration.
Many Democrats in the Senate have warned against loading up a bill crucial to the economy with unrelated and/or controversial provisions including expansion of drilling into new areas and the Keystone XL language.
Some Republicans also have expressed concerns about the bill’s ANWR provision, saying it’s politically sensitive enough to threaten the legislation’s chances in the Senate. The provision’s proponents have said only the parts of ANWR set aside for drilling under President Jimmy Carter would be opened.
A group of top Democrats sent a letter to House GOP leaders today calling the move to split the legislation into parts “at best … a thinly veiled attempt to force through bad legislation that many of your own Members do not support.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, sought to dub the House legislation “the worst transportation bill ever” in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. The group has taken issue with the legislation’s transportation provisions, as well as the ones expanding oil-and-gas production and approving the Keystone XL pipeline.