'Serious' questions on GOP pipeline bill
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Republican bill that would strip President Barack Obama of his authority to decide on a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline raises "serious" legal questions, the State Department said Wednesday in objecting to the bill.
Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones told Congress that the bill "imposes narrow time constraints and creates automatic mandates that prevent an informed decision" on the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., would transfer authority over the 1,700-mile pipeline to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Obama blocked the $7 billion pipeline last week, saying officials did not have enough time to review an alternate route that avoided environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska.
The plan by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. would carry tar sands oil from western Canada across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma en route to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Jones said Obama's Jan. 18 decision to reject the pipeline was not based on the merits of the project, but on the fact that officials did not have enough time to review the project before a deadline imposed by Congress.
"We fought in World War II in less time than it has taken to decide on this project," shot back Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. "In all due respect, it is an insult to the American people to say you need more time."
TransCanada first applied to build the pipeline in 2008, under the Bush
Obama had delayed a decision on the pipeline in November, saying his administration needed time to review an alternate route that avoided environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska -- a route that still has not been proposed. But in an unrelated tax deal he cut with congressional Republicans, Obama had been boxed into making a decision by Feb. 21.
The deal required that the project would go forward unless Obama declared by that date that it was not in the national interest. The president did just that last week.
Republicans said after the president's Jan. 18 announcement that the battle for Keystone was not over.
Terry said transferring authority for the project to FERC was "simply moving authority to an agency that understands pipelines. This legislation means that Keystone will progress in a timely manner and that our country gets the much-needed jobs and energy security that it will bring."
Jeffrey Wright, director of FERC's Office of Energy Projects, said the agency has no authority or experience in determining where oil pipelines are located. FERC regulates interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil. It also reviews proposals to build liquefied natural gas terminals and interstate natural gas pipelines.
Wright said the GOP bill does not give FERC enough time to adequately assess the Keystone XL project and does not provide clear direction for how the agency would modify the yet-to-be-determined route through Nebraska.
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the House energy panel, called the legislation "an earmark that benefits just one project" and would exempt the pipeline "from every federal and state permitting requirement."
Obama "was right to reject this project until he has all of the necessary information in front of him to make an informed decision," Waxman said. "We should reject this bill and allow the agencies enough time to do their jobs."
Project supporters say U.S. rejection of the pipeline will not stop one from being built.