By Andrew Restuccia
The House approved legislation Wednesday to green-light the Keystone XL oil pipeline, giving Republicans a messaging victory heading into the Memorial Day recess.
The legislation, which was authored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), was approved on a 241-175 vote.
Every Republican who attended voted in favor the bill except for Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), who voted present. They were joined by 19 Democrats, a smaller number than had supported previous pro-Keystone bills.
It was the seventh time that House Republicans voted to approve or expedite a decision on the pipeline, which if completed would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. Project developer TransCanada has already begun construction on the southern portion of the pipeline.
Despite the numerous pro-Keystone votes, it is unlikely that the legislation will gain traction in the Senate. And on Tuesday, the White House threatened to veto the bill.
The Obama administration, led by the State Department, is nearing completion of a lengthy analysis of the pipeline that will culminate in a final decision in the coming months. The White House said Tuesday the legislation short-circuits the existing process for evaluating the pipeline and it stressed that it is “working diligently” to come to a verdict.
Republicans have turned the pipeline into a symbol of everything they believe is wrong with the Obama administration. TransCanada has been trying to win approval for the pipeline for almost five years. And Republicans contend that the administration is slow-walking the project, which they say would create thousands of jobs, improve national security and make North America more energy independent.
“Five years! Five years and still no decision. What does five years mean? Well, World War II, where we mobilized America,”
Wednesday’s vote comes just days before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, which traditionally marks the start of the summer travel season. And with gas prices averaging $3.66 nationally going into the weekend, Republicans painted the pipeline as a solution for drivers’ frustration at the pump.
Saying the pipeline won’t lower gas prices is “the same thing as saying that gravity doesn’t exist and the Earth is still flat,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.
“The law of supply and demand still stands,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in arguing that the pipeline will lower pump prices.
Democrats spent much of the afternoon attacking the legislation, insisting that Republicans were greatly exaggerating the benefits of the pipeline and downplaying its risks. If approved, the project would wreak havoc on the climate, increase the likelihood of oil spills and have no effect on gas prices.
“This bill will hurt American families. It won’t lower gas prices by a single penny. It may even raise them. It will lock us into more global warming and risk our farmlands and our water supplies,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy committee.
Democrats also sought to paint the legislation as so extreme that even some Democratic backers of the pipeline could not support the bill.
The legislation would circumvent the State Department’s ongoing decision-making process on the pipeline by allowing it to be built without a presidential permit. It would also deem the existing environmental reviews and analysis already completed by the State Department sufficient to approve the project.
Rep. Nick Rahall, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who supports the pipeline, argued against the legislation on the House floor, taking issue with language in the bill that deems the project approved without a presidential permit.
“This is a bumper-sticker bill — ideologically drive, born of fancy not fact,” Rahall said, adding later, “This bill is a mockery. It boils down to right-wing politics trumping what is right, what is just.” He mocked Republican supporters of the bill for their “kindergarten tactics.”
Still, the bill won the support of 19 Democrats.
Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), for example, said earlier Wednesday that he supports the bill even if he disagrees with some of its provisions.
“I plan to support the bill this afternoon, but let me be clear about a couple things. I support the bill because it’s a message bill,” Green said on the floor, explaining that the legislation sends a message to President Barack Obama that he needs to green-light the project.
Republicans have acknowledged that the bill faces major hurdles after it leaves the House. But they are eying options to force approval of the pipeline, including attaching language to a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who has long pushed to approve the pipeline, said he is also trying to figure out a way to move legislation to green-light the project. But he acknowledged that it will be very difficult to secure a stand-alone vote in the Senate.
“To get a stand-alone vote is probably going to be hard before [Obama] makes a decision because I think the Democratic leadership is holding it up to give him more time. We’re having a hard time getting it to the floor,” Hoeven told POLITICO. “So either A, we need a vehicle to get it to the floor, which we’re working on. Or B, if he turns it down then I think we could force it and get a favorable vote.”
Prior to the vote, House Republicans rejected eight Democratic amendments to the pipeline.
They approved one Republican amendment, by by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), which adds language to the bill “highlighting the State Department’s scientific and environmental findings which conclude that the Keystone XL pipeline is a safe and environmentally sound project.” And they approved by voice vote an amendment by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) that would require TransCanada to submit an oil spill response plan to the governors of every state that touches the pipeline.