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Keystone XL Vote Divides W.Va. House

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West Virginia's House delegation was divided on Wednesday's vote to speed approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Republican Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley -- both cosponsors of HR 3, the Northern Route Approval Act -- voted yes. Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, a longtime supporter of the project, voted no.

"I think it's long past due," Capito said by phone. "It's a jobs bill and that's the way I see it. ... I hope the President will approve it. I just think it's a win-win."

Calgary, Alberta-based TransCanada, the owner of the project, describes the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Project as a 1,179-mile 36-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline, beginning in Hardisty, Alberta, and extending south to Steele City, Neb. It would carry 830,000 barrels of western Canadian tar sands oil and oil from the Bakken regions of Montana and North Dakota per day. The estimated cost is $5.3 billion. If approved this summer, TransCanada projects having it in service sometime in 2015.

From Steele City, additional pipelines would transport oil to refineries in southern Illinois (on the existing Keystone pipeline) and to the Gulf Coast at Houston on new and existing pipes. TransCanada notes the pipeline would also support U.S. oil production in the west and south.

The pipeline is promoted as a means to reduce oil imports from unfriendly nations and support commerce with friendly Canada. Because it crosses an international boundary, it requires a presidential permit.

Capito explained in a release, "Despite the overwhelming support of the American people, President Obama has single-handedly stood in the way of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would directly create 20,000 new jobs and many more indirectly. It has been over 1,700 days since the application for the project was filed, yet the president continues to drag his feet. The pipeline is not only a job creator, but it could move 830,000 barrels of oil per day, which represents about half the amount the U.S. imports from the Middle East."

The project was originally proposed in 2008, but denied for environmental concerns. In May 2012, TransCanada said, it filed a new application for a presidential permit with the U.S. Department of State. While awaiting approval, it moved ahead with the southern portion of its Keystone expansion as a separate project, the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project.

In January, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved a revised route through his state that bypassed environmentally sensitive lands. In March, the U.S. Department of State released a Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on Keystone XL that reaffirmed "there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed project route."

The Northern Route Approval Act is an attempt to get around Obama's stonewall on the project by negating the presidential permit requirement, and by considering a 2011 State Department report and a 2013 Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality report as sufficient to satisfy National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act requirements.

It also limits legal challenges to the project.

TransCanada notes that the Alberta oil is going to get to the Gulf one way or another -- by rail or pipeline, and pipeline is more environmentally friendly than rail. HR 3 agrees, saying, "The transportation of oil via pipeline is the safest and most economically and environmentally effective means of doing so."

Capito said, "The Keystone XL is the most studied pipeline in our nation's history, and with more than 15,500 pages of review indicating that the project is safe and in the national interest, it is time to move forward. An energy economy is a jobs economy. It is time to forge ahead with the pipeline and take steps toward energy independence."

Rahall said in a release that he supported Republican-sponsored legislation during the last Congress, which would have placed a deadline on the issuance or denial of the permit.

"I want to see this pipeline built," Rahall said on the House floor. "But it will not be under this proposal. Waiving permits. Deeming permit applications approved. For a foreign company? We do not even do that for domestic companies.

"Everybody in this country understands you need a permit for certain activities," he said. "You need a permit to drive. You need a permit to mine coal, to build a highway, to construct a shopping mall. You even need a permit, a license, to get married."

Rahall proposed a failed amendment to HR that would have stricken the section waiving the presidential permit and considering the 2011 and 2013 reports sufficient for environmental purposes.

Rahall said: "It boils down to this: Right-wing politics trumping what is right, what is correct, and what is just for this pipeline to proceed through the permitting process. To be built. To put people to work. So let's get serious."

Capito disagreed, saying by phone the environmental permitting is done and the project is ready to go forward. Opposing the bill is "a stall tactic, just a way to put it on the shelf again."

McKinley said in an email exchange, "Completing the Keystone Pipeline will make America more energy independent and create thousands of jobs. For over 1,700 days, the Obama Administration has stood in the way of creating good-paying jobs for hard-working Americans despite strong support for completing the Keystone Pipeline. In March, a bipartisan group of 62 Senators voted to support Keystone, and now the House has overwhelming supported it as well. It's time for President Obama and the Senate to act and move this project forward to create jobs and take advantage of North American energy."

The bill heads to the Senate, where many expect it to die.

The Keystone XL northern route, if built, would supplement the original Keystone pipeline that takes a more indirect route from Hardisty through eastern North Dakota to Steele City. That 2,151-mile pipeline can transport up to 590,000 barrels of oil from Alberta a day to Illinois and Oklahoma.

"The two projects were developed in response to the needs of our customers to meet a growing need for crude oil by U.S. refiners in the Midwest and the Gulf Coast, and contracts for up to 20 years have been signed for shippers on each pipeline," TransCana -- da's Davis Sheremata told The Dominion Post.

The State Department's web pages on the Keystone XL project report that the 45-day comment period on the draft SEIS closed on April 22. On May 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its Biological Opinion. "The Department continues to review the Presidential Permit application for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in a rigorous, transparent, and efficient manner."


(c)2013 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)

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