TransCanada applies again for permit to build Keystone XL pipeline

The Canadian company that wants to build the first pipeline to move tar sands oil from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast has launched a third attempt to obtain American permission for cross-border construction.

TransCanada Corp. announced Thursday that it had filed the permit application with the U.S. Department of State.

The current leader of the American government’s executive branch, real estate developer and reality television star Donald J. Trump, expressly invited the re-application earlier this week after years of deliberation led to two rejections of the pipeline project by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Trump issued an executive memorandum on Jan. 24 that imposes a 60-day deadline for the State Department to decide whether to grant the permit application.

As of Friday the State Department lacks any senior leadership. Former Exxon-Mobil chief executive officer Rex Tillerson, nominated by Trump to succeed former secretary of state John F. Kerry, is awaiting a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, the staff of senior diplomats and foreign service officers who lead the department’s 13 divisions has been gutted. The regime demanded, and received, the resignations of at least seven senior department officials this week.

Replacements for most of those senior staff members will have to be nominated by Trump and then confirmed by the Senate, a process not likely to be completed by the time the deadline Trump imposed for considering TransCanada’s application is reached.

 

Senate votes approval of KXL pipeline bill

The U.S. Senate approved Thursday the contentious bill to cut the President out of the process of deciding whether to authorize the KXL oil pipeline.

The vote followed two more days dedicated, in part, to debate on a series of amendments to the bill.

Nearly all of those amendments failed to reach the 60-vote threshold for adoption.

Senators voted on about a dozen amendments this week, following a successful filibuster of S.1 by minority Democrats late last week, and several of them implicated the nation’s environmental policy:

  • proposal by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., to assure that communities along the pipeline route are notified of the risks of leaks or ruptures was defeated, 37 ayes to 67 nos.
  • Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., sought to require a certification by federal pipeline regulators that they have adequate resources to assure safety; it was beaten back by Republicans, 40-58.
  • An amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to provide tax rebates for solar energy systems failed on a 40-58 vote.
  • An attempt by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., to force the removal of the lesser prairie chicken from the federal list of endangered and threatened species was voted down, 54-44.
  • Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines offered an amendment that would have forced presidents to obtain the approval of state governors and legislatures before designating national monuments; it failed, 50-47.
  • An amendment by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., that would have put the Senate on record as recognizing the impacts of climate change on the nation’s infrastructure was voted down, 47-51.
  • Alaska’s senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, proposed to end wilderness study area status for all areas not designated by Congress as wilderness within one year of being considered; that amendment was rejected on a 50-48 vote.
  • Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., offered an amendment that would have permanently re-authorized appropriations into the Land and Water Conservation Fund; that amendment lost by one vote, 59-39.
  • An effort by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to include in the bill a federal renewable energy standard was defeated, 45-53.

After debate and votes on all amendments, Democrats again sought to delay a vote on the merits. This time they were unsuccessful, as the Senate shut off debate with a 62-35 vote for cloture.

Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Joseph Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia voted with all of the chamber’s Republicans to move to a final vote on the bill.

The final vote mirrored that margin, with the same Democratic senators voting with the majority GOP.

S.1 now moves back to the House of Representatives, where Republican Speaker John Boehner of Ohio will have to decide whether to ask that chamber to vote to approve the amendments approved by the Senate or, instead, send the different House and Senate versions to a conference committee.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesperson, reiterated Thursday that President Obama will veto any bill that attempts to deprive him of authority to decide whether to grant the permit necessary for a Canadian corporation to build the KXL pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

“[O]ur position on the Keystone legislation is well known,” Earnest said. “And if, in fact, the legislation that passed the House also passes the Senate, then the President won’t sign it.”

Senate Democrats block Keystone XL bill

The legislation that aims to bypass President Barack Obama’s role in deciding whether to allow construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline has hit a roadblock in the U.S. Senate.

That chamber’s minority Democrats filibustered the bill Monday, preventing majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., from moving to a vote on its merits.

Two votes were held in an attempt by McConnell and the Senate’s GOP caucus to obtain cloture, or an end to debate, on S.1. Both failed, with only 53 senators voting to end debate.

Sixty affirmative votes are needed to obtain cloture.

Among those who voted to move immediately to a vote on the merits of the legislation were four Democrats: Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Every Republican senator who was present in the chamber for the cloture votes cast their ballot in favor of ending the filibuster.

The Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives approved a KXL pipeline bill shortly after the commencement of the 114th Congress earlier this month.

President Barack Obama has promised to veto any legislation that interferes with his discretion to grant or withhold the permit needed for the pipeline developer to construct the project across the U.S.-Canada border.

House of Representatives clears KXL bill on same day Nebraska court rejects challenge to route

The Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives passed on Friday a bill that would strip President Barack Obama of the authority to decide whether to authorize the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canada border.

The action came hours after the Nebraska Supreme Court removed one of the causes of delay in the administration’s review of the project. That court reversed a state trial court ruling that the statute under which former GOP Gov. Dave Heineman approved the pipeline route violated the Nebraska constitution.

The White House said again Thursday that President Obama would not decide whether or not to grant a permit allowing the pipeline to proceed until the litigation in Nebraska was resolved.

A committee of the U.S. Senate acted Thursday to approve a bill to expedite the pipeline. That chamber’s Energy & Natural Resources Committee, where Republicans have a 12-10 advantage, gave S.1 a green light with the help of one Democrat – West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

The vote on the House bill, the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Act, was 266-153. Every Republican except Justin Amash of Michigan voted “aye.” They were joined by 28 Democrats. Amash voted “present.”

Despite the lopsided sentiment in the chamber in favor of sidelining President Obama and forcing approval of the pipeline, the number of “aye” votes is not enough to override an expected veto of H.R. 3.

Over in the Senate, backers of similar legislation – S.1 – appear to have the 60 votes needed to cut off any attempt to filibuster the bill and approve it. It is not likely that 67 senators would vote to override a veto.

According to a report in The Hill newspaper, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has scheduled a cloture vote on the Senate bill for Monday, Jan. 12.

The House and Senate bills have identical text, which means that the proposed legislation would proceed immediately to President Obama’s desk if the Senate rejects a filibuster of S.1 and then approves it.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruling did not involve any of the seven justices finding that the law allowing approval of the pipeline route through the state was constitutional. Four justices said the statute violated the state constitution and three opined that the plaintiffs in the case lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. Under Nebraska law five justices must agree that a state law violates the state constitution in order to hold the statute invalid.

Report: 56 senators support Keystone approval

A majority of U.S. senators is likely to support legislation that would force the Obama administration to green-light the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, according to a report by The Hill.

The report explained that proponents of the measure have not yet decided whether to attach it as amendment to pending legislation related to energy efficiency improvements or push a stand-alone bill.

In either case, it is not clear that there are enough votes in the U.S. Senate in favor of an immediate approval of the pipeline to overcome a likely filibuster by those opposed to it.

Sixty votes would be needed to limit debate and bring such a measure to a floor vote.

Even if it passed the Senate, and then was approved by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, it is possible that President Barack Obama would veto it. Proponents of an immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would need 67 votes in the U.S. Senate and two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives to vote to override a veto in order to force the proposal into law.

 

State Department releases EIS on Keystone XL pipeline

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is one step closer to President Barack Obama’s desk, as the U.S. Department of State released Friday a final environmental impact study on the controversial project.

The Keystone XL pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Morgan, Mont. to Steel City, Neb. About 85 percent of the oil would come from tar sands that extend across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and, especially, Alberta.

The process of removing that oil from tar sands and its use as an energy source could add as much as 93 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, according to a Dec. 2013 report by the Stockholm Environment Institute.

A July 2013 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that, during a 50-year period, the pipeline could cause at least 1 billion more metric tons of the greenhouse gas to be pumped into the atmosphere than would be discharged without it.

The EIS indicates that the State Department, at least, does not concur with opinions that the Keystone XL project will cause an increase in global warming.

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios,” it says.

The question is a crucial one because Obama has said that he will not approve Keystone XL if its construction would add to the problem of climate change.

The rest of the oil that would be transported by the pipeline would be drawn from the Bakken Shale Formation in western North Dakota.

Environmental advocacy organizations wasted little time before calling on Obama to reject the pipeline.

“Even though the State Department continues to downplay clear evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to tar sands expansion and significantly worsen carbon pollution, it has, for the first time, acknowledged that the proposed project could accelerate climate change,” Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the international program director for Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “President Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline.”

The publication of the EIS is the latest step in an odyssey that has lasted for nearly six years. President Obama rejected the developer’s first permit request in 2011 because of concerns about the impact on Nebraska’s Sand Hills and its underlying aquifer. The proposed route was later changed, which necessitated both a new permit application and a new environmental impact review of the project.

A 2004 executive order by former President George W. Bush requires a presidential permit for oil and gas facilities that cross U.S. international borders.

The release of a supplemental environmental impact statement triggers a 30-day comment period, which will commence on Feb. 5. Once the deadline for submission of those comments passes, secretary of state John Kerry will make his recommendation about whether the White House should grant the presidential permit required to build the trans-national conduit for oil extracted from Canada’s tar sands.

A coalition of environmental groups argued, in a Jan. 29 letter to Kerry, that the State Department needs to consider the cumulative climate change impacts of both the Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of the nearby Alberta Clipper pipeline. That project would,if expansion is approved, carry about 880,000 barrels of crude per day. An amendment to an existing presidential permit is required for Enbridge, Inc., the developer of both pipelines, to increase the Alberta Clipper’s capacity.

Construction of the southern half of the pipeline, which will carry oil from Cushing, Okla. to the Gulf of Mexico coast, has recently been completed.

Enviros to Obama: Kill Keystone XL pipeline

Dozens of environmental organizations urged President Barack Obama Monday to permanently terminate any prospect of the Keystone XL pipeline being built, warning that the project would deepen the nation’s climate-changing commitment to fossil fuels.

The request came in a short letter signed by representatives of 70 organizations.

“Reject dirty fuels,” the groups argued. “We should not pursue dirty fuels like tar sands  when climate science tells us that 80 percent of existing fossil fuel reserves need to be kept in the ground. More specifically, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest because it would unlock vast amounts of additional carbon that we can’t afford to burn, extend our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, endanger health and safety, and put critical water resources at risk.”

The U.S. Department of State is expected to decide soon whether to grant the authorization necessary for construction of the pipeline’s northern section, which crosses the U.S.-Canada border, to begin.

The pipeline would allow transport of synthetic crude oil extracted from oil sands in Alberta to refineries in the midwest and along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Obama previously rejected the pipeline in Jan. 2012 on grounds that it might have an adverse impact on the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region of Nebraska. However, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a report last week that is skeptical of arguments that significant adverse environmental impact would occur if the pipeline is built.

The report acknowledges that the pipeline’s route would traverse the Ogallala aquifer, but asserts that any harm to the groundwater contained in the aquifer would be of limited geographic reach.

The developer of the pipeline now proposes to avoid the Sand Hills region altogether.

The report will not be finalized until it is reviewed by the state’s Republican governor, Dave Heineman.

Oil removed from the the Bakken formation in eastern Montana and western North Dakota could also be carried by the Keystone XL pipeline.

NOTE: This story also appears at Examiner.com.