State Department official to testify on Keystone XL permit denial

A top State Department official will testify before a House committee next week on why the department recommended against a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones, the point person on the Keystone application, will appear Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee, the committee announced late Thursday. The hearing will come a week after the Obama administration denied a permit for Keystone XL, saying a congressionally imposed Feb. 21 decision deadline didn’t give enough time to study alternative routes avoiding a drinking-water aquifer in Nebraska.

Republicans had asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify. A department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about what circumstances led to the selection of Jones instead.

The hearing announcement indicates Republicans hope keep the Keystone issue alive ahead of Obama’s re-election bid, which likely will hinge on the economy. The GOP has pointed to the project as a job-creator, though opponents have rejected that characterization as exaggerated.

The committee also will debate legislation sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., which would transfer Keystone XL permitting authority from the State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency — and require FERC to approve the pipeline within 30 days.