WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Terry is taking a fresh stab at forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Omaha Republican unveiled draft legislation Thursday that would deny President Barack Obama authority over the pipeline and seek to clear away any legal obstacles facing the controversial project.
“It's been over four years and thousands of pages of environmental reviews,” Terry said. “The experts have weighed in. Now is the time to build the Keystone pipeline.”
Terry and other pipeline supporters tout the project's benefits for job creation and energy independence, saying it would provide nearly a million barrels a day of secure crude from a friendly neighbor and support thousands of good jobs.
Opponents call those claims overblown, however, and say the pipeline would contribute to global climate change by driving up greenhouse gas emissions. They also say any leaks would pose significant risks to land and water resources along the route, including to Nebraska's Ogallala Aquifer. Federal environmental reviews have downplayed those risks, though opponents describe the analyses as flawed.
Jane Kleeb, head of the environmental advocacy group Bold Nebraska, criticized Terry's move.
“It's been over four years and thousands of pages of environmental reviews,” Kleeb told the World-Herald. “The citizens, landowners and unbiased experts have weighed in, and yet we continue to be ignored.”
The pipeline has become a signature issue for Terry, who was the author of three previous bills to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Most of his proposals have failed to win Senate approval, however, and it's unclear whether this latest effort would find its way to the president's desk.
But two Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and John Barrow of Georgia, co-authored the legislation, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he's working with about 10 Democrats on his side of Capitol Hill to draft their own pipeline legislation.
The pipeline would run from Canada's oil sands to refineries in Texas. Under current rules, the pipeline project requires State Department review and a presidential permit because it crosses an international border.
Terry's bill would eliminate the need for that presidential permit, determine that the completed impact studies satisfy federal environmental-review requirements and limit further legal challenges to the project.
It would not affect a pending lawsuit filed by three Nebraska landowners against Gov. Dave Heineman challenging the constitutionality of the state law used to reroute the pipeline around the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills. A trial is scheduled this summer in Lancaster County District Court.
The State Department last week released its latest draft environmental-impact statement, which downplayed the environmental impacts of approving the pipeline project.
While Terry and other pipeline backers welcomed the substance of the report, they also expressed concern that the project could continue to languish.
“If we see further delays as we have in the past, Congress is ready to act,” Terry said Thursday.
Pipeline opponents, meanwhile, have slammed the report's analysis as flawed, citing, in part, ties between a couple of the consulting firms used and the oil and gas industry.
Kleeb also said too much remains unknown to push the project ahead.
“It's only 'time to build' the pipeline when the oil is staying in the United States, when TransCanada uses 100 percent made-in-the-USA steel, when landowners' rights are respected and when the proper studies have been done with unbiased experts to ensure our health and safety are not at risk with this tar sands pipeline,” Kleeb said.
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