Five-Year Keystone Wait Draws Criticism from Lawmakers

Photograph by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Welders David Warner, left, and Brent Mauldin work on a joint between two sections of pipe during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Prague, Oklahoma, on March 11, 2013.

Today is the fifth anniversary of TransCanada Corp.’s original application to build the Keystone XL pipeline, a public relations opportunity supporters didn’t let pass unnoted.

At a House hearing this morning and at a press conference of Senate Republicans and Democrats this afternoon, backers of the $5.3 billion link between Alberta’s oil sands and refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast criticized President Barack Obama for taking longer to decide whether it was in the national interest than it took to build the Golden Gate bridge or win World War II.

Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, said it was “mind-boggling” Keystone hadn’t been approved, given that it would create thousands of construction jobs and strengthen the U.S.’s relationship with Canada, a close ally.

Senate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Begich joined Hoeven and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky at the news conference calling for Obama to back the project.

TransCanada’s original proposal, submitted on Sept. 19, 2008, was to build a $7 billion line from Hardisty, Alberta, down through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. That line would then connect with a southern leg from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast.

Obama did decide on the original route. He rejected it in January 2012 amid complaints from Nebraska state officials that the line threatened the Ogallala aquifer and the Sand Hills network of dunes and wetlands. But he encouraged TransCanada to go forward with the southern portion, which is nearing completion.

The project under review now would extend to Steele City, Nebraska, and pushes further east in that state to address environmental concerns though critics stay the risks are still too high. TransCanada submitted its application for the new route in May 2012.

At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing earlier, Democrats said Keystone would promote development of the oil sands in Alberta, raising the risks of climate change. Democrat Henry Waxman of California said the Keystone pipeline “locks us into decades of higher carbon pollution.”

House Republicans say they may try to force a decision in legislation to raise the nation’s borrowing limit — meaning Keystone XL is likely to remain a hot-button political topic even after its 5th anniversary passes.

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