53 senators push Obama to approve Keystone XL

A bipartisan group of 53 senators on Wednesday urged President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, over objections of environmental activists who have made it a signature issue.

The move came one day after Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved a new route that would keep the pipeline away from ecologically sensitive areas in his state, and as Obama’s State Department mulls whether the $7 billion project is in the “national interest.”

TransCanada Corp., is already building the southern leg of the pipeline, which is designed to ultimately connect oil sands development in Alberta, Canada, with refineries along the Gulf Coast.

Spearheaded by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., the congressional letter writers insist Keystone’s approval should be a given since the State Department already concluded four years ago that the rival 1,000-mile Alberta Clipper pipeline between Hardisty and Wisconsin was in the national interest.

“The factors supporting the national interest determination in 2009 are just as relevant today,” the senators wrote. “Because (Keystone XL) has gone through the most exhaustive environmental scrutiny of any pipeline in the history of this country and you already determined that oil from Canada is in the national interest, there is no reason to deny or further delay this long-studied project.”

Letter-signers included Texas’s two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, as well as a handful of Democrats hailing mostly from oil-patch states, such as Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Begich of Alaska.

Obama is facing intense pressure from all sides on the issue, including environmentalists who helped usher him into the White House five years ago. Activists are planning to descend on the nation’s capital on Feb. 17 to insist that if Obama wants to make good on an inaugural vow to combat climate change, he must reject TransCanada’s Keystone XL permit application.

“We’ll do all we can to help the president realize his goals and trust he’ll begin by blocking the Keystone XL, pipeline, whose approval would make a mockery of his rhetoric,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, which is organizing the protest.

The Sierra Club has taken the unusual step of committing to acts of civil disobedience during the event to further ramp up the pressure on Obama.

Some landowners in the path of the pipeline say they are concerned about spills along its 1,700-mile route. Environmentalists also are concerned Keystone XL would expand the marketplace for bitumen that is typically extracted using energy-intensive techniques, generating more carbon emissions over its entire lifecycle (from extraction to combustion) than alternative crudes.

Supporters insist that the oil sands crude is no dirtier than the Venezuelan supplies it likely would displace in U.S. refineries. Keystone XL would ensure the United States gleans more of the oil it needs from a friendly North American ally, they say.

The senators writing Obama on Wednesday touted the construction jobs attached to the project. They touted the potential for “thousands of good-paying union jobs and millions of dollars in economic development for our country as a whole, none of which cost any taxpayer money.”

The Obama administration rejected a cross-border permit for Keystone XL pipeline early last year, after the State Department concluded it needed more study and an environmental analysis of the proposed path through Nebraska.

The State Department has said it is on track to issue its final supplemental environmental impact statement assessing the newly rerouted project by the end of the first quarter this year, setting up the national interest determination.

Keystone foes insist that environmental analysis won’t be complete unless it evaluates how the pipeline might spur additional development of Canada’s oil sands.


The text of the senators’ letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:

“Nebraska recently approved a new Keystone XL Pipeline route. Four and a half years after TransCanada first applied for a Presidential Permit, and a year since you denied their original request, the project still awaits your approval. Nebraska has now addressed the outstanding concerns you raised when you denied the permit, and we therefore urge you to finish expeditiously the review process and approve the pipeline.

“Specifically, the new pipeline route in Nebraska avoids the Sand Hills, which you cited as a concern in your denial. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality determined the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact and would generate significant economic benefits in the state of Nebraska. This is on top of the thousands of good-paying union jobs and millions of dollars in economic development for our country as a whole, none of which cost any taxpayer money. The pipeline is also a major step toward American energy security. Canada plans to develop this oil resource and the only question is whether we receive the oil from our friend and ally or whether Canada is forced to look for new partners in Asia because we turned them away.

“On March 22, 2012, you directed federal agencies to accelerate approval of vital energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline. We strongly urge you to direct the State Department to accelerate the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and quickly complete the National Interest Determination.

“This should be able to be done quickly since your administration has previously made a National Interest Determination on the same key factors relevant to Keystone XL. In 2009, with respect to the Alberta Clipper Pipeline, the State Department ‘found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of strategic interests of the United States. These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer. Canada is a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the security of this energy supply.’

“The factors supporting the National Interest Determination in 2009 are just as relevant today. Some constituencies have called on you to deny the pipeline and the jobs and energy security associated with it. Because the pipeline has gone through the most exhaustive environmental scrutiny of any pipeline in the history of this country, and you already determined that oil from Canada is in the national interest, there is no reason to deny or further delay this long-studied project.

“We ask you not to move the goalposts as opponents of this project have pressed you to do. We urge you to choose jobs, economic development and American energy security. It is vital for the country that you promptly finalize the SEIS and the National Interest Determination and approve the pipeline.

“The State Department has said that it would issue the final SEIS before the end of the first quarter of 2013. After four and a half years of study, we urge you to stick to your deadlines. The American people need a timely decision on the Presidential Permit.

“Thank you for your consideration.”

Signatories:

John Hoeven (R-N.D.)
Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)
Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)
Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)
John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)
Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)
Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
David Vitter (R-La.)
John Cornyn (R-Texas)
James Risch (R-Idaho)
Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
James Inhofe (R-Okla.)
Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)
Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)
Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)
Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
John Thune (R-S.D.)
Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Mike Lee (R-Utah)
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)
John Boozman (R-Ark.)
Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)
Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)
Dean Heller (R-Nev.)
Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)
Mary Landrieu (D-La.)
Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
Mark Warner (D-Va.)
Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)