With the official Keystone XL pipeline environmental reviews finalized, Capitol Hill backers of the controversial project said Tuesday that they are ready to force the president’s hand if he fails to act quickly.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., has been a champion for the pipeline and declared that "Nebraska’s ready" to start the project after years of waiting.
The administration is entering a 30-day public comment period on the project and has up to 90 days for additional input from government agencies.
Terry said time is of the essence, however, given the weather patterns in Nebraska and the more northern states crossed by the pipeline.
"We have winter and construction season," Terry said. "We need this approved . . . If they continue to delay, we will lose another construction season."
Terry attended Tuesday’s press conference alongside other House and Senate members from both parties, as well as labor union leaders.
They touted the State Department’s final environmental impact study released last week that found the project would have little impact on the development of Canada’s oil sands because that oil is likely to be transported by other means if the pipeline is scrapped. The report also downplayed the risk oil spills would pose to the Ogallala Aquifer.
Anti-pipeline activists seized on changes from an earlier draft of the environmental impact statement. For example, the report acknowledged that the impact of the pipeline on oil sands development could change if oil prices fall below a certain level. The report also cited the 2,537 water wells within one mile of the proposed project. A spill could affect nearby wells, according to the report.
Pipeline critics also highlighted the report’s indication that the pipeline still crosses part of the aquifer and the Sand Hills, even after TransCanada shifted the Nebraska route.
While both sides are prepared to continue the battle in the months ahead, pipeline supporters played down recent talk that they might seek to tie the Keystone project to an upcoming vote on raising the federal debt ceiling.
That’s because while pipeline supporters are anxious to see dirt flying, they are willing to give the administration its 90 days, which would run through April. The debt ceiling vote is likely to come well before that.
Expect to see a big legislative push, however, if the administration does not act after the 90 days.
"On the 91st day, we’re going to be looking for action," Terry said.