WASHINGTON — Congressional hearings sometimes feature surprising testimony and shocking revelations.
Wednesday's session on the Keystone XL pipeline was not one of those hearings. The discussion among both witnesses and committee members followed well-established lines.
» A Natural Resources Defense Council attorney spoke of the dangers presented by the tar-sands oil pipeline, citing a recent spill in Arkansas that fouled yards in a residential area.
» A TransCanada Inc. executive highlighted the safety features that would come with his company's Keystone XL pipeline and touted its role in North American energy independence.
» A labor union representative talked up the thousands of good-paying construction jobs the pipeline project would create.
» A Canadian climate economist said the project must be stopped to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, noted at one point during the hearing that it seemed unlikely anyone was going to change his or her mind and suggested that the committee just go ahead and vote on the legislation offered by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb.
The bill would force approval of the pipeline to carry crude oil from the tar-sands region of western Canada to Texas refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to consider amendments to the bill next week and then is expected to send it to the House floor.
“We need to cement our relationship with our best trading partner and friend in Canada and secure our national security interests and energy security interests by approving this pipeline,” Terry said at the hearing.
The Omaha congressman says that the pipeline has been stuck in the limbo of government review for more than four years and that it's more than time to get moving on it.
But Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who supports building the pipeline, characterized Terry's bill as a counterproductive attempt to circumvent the existing review process and said it will delay the project further.
One argument receiving a great deal of attention during the hearing was what will happen if the pipeline isn't built.
Pipeline supporters say failure to build the pipeline would simply lead to the construction of a pipeline to the west, which would send the oil to China.
Mark Jaccard, a professor at Canada's Simon Fraser University who specializes in energy and climate economics, testified that both of those scenarios are unlikely, based on political resistance to a westward pipeline in British Columbia.
It remains to be seen what the Obama administration will do on the project and how diplomatic considerations could play into that decision.
Alberta's premier told the Associated Press in a telephone interview that rejection of the pipeline would be a significant thorn in Canadian-U.S. relations. Premier Alison Redford is in Washington on her fourth trip to press for the pipeline's approval.
Obama's initial delay of the pipeline's approval last year went over badly in Canada, which relies on the United States for 97 percent of its energy exports.
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