House leadership plays politics with Keystone XL pipeline, pushing new legislation and discredited job numbers

The Speaker of the House John Boehner has just announced that he plans to hold payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits hostage to a bill that would rubber stamp approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This legislation, proposed by Rep. Lee Terry (Neb.), is nothing like the bill the House voted on in the summer. Rather than requiring an expedited decision by the Administration, Terry’s new bill would require automatic approval of Keystone XL in thirty days, giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority to permit (but not decline) a Presidential permit. In the process, it also exempts TransCanada from having to abide by the same laws that domestic pipelines do – laws intended to protect the nation’s land and water. Speaker Boehner’s reason for pushing such a bad bill is his belief that the American people will mistake Keystone XL for a national jobs package. It isn’t. The House leadership is echoing discredited and widely exaggerated job numbers for the project. The State Department found that the pipeline would only create between 5,000 to 6,000 temporary construction jobs and only 20 permanent jobs (pg. 3.10-79, 80). Even the pipeline’s sponsor TransCanada has admitted that the pipeline would create no more than a few hundred permanent jobs. The 13.3 million Americans who are out of work will not thank Speaker Boehner when they realize that rather than seriously working on their behalf to advance national job creation, he used their distress to try to get a pipeline that is for the benefit of Big Oil.

The new Terry bill a surprising choice for a national shutdown – as a piece of legislation it’s fraught with problems. Unlike legislation proposed by Terry last year which would have set a deadline for the Administration to decide whether to issue a permit for Keystone XL, the new Terry bill essentially takes the decision away from the President and regulatory agencies with scientific and technical expertise. Of course, the legislation gives FERC a thirty day window to approve a Presidential permit before automatic approval happens. But this isn’t actual permitting authority anymore than an election where voters may vote for one candidate before that candidate automatically wins is real democracy.

The Terry bill would also exempt TransCanada from state and federal regulations that domestic pipeline operators must abide by. The bill would exempt TransCanada from any law other than the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHSMA) safety regulations and FERC’s authority to regulate pipelines rate and services in the construction, operation and maintenance of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. That means TransCanada wouldn’t to abide by the same laws that domestic pipelines do – laws intended to protect the nation’s land and water.Terry's bill also sets an alarming precedent for future poorly conceived projects to go and get boutique legislation when the public and regulators ask pointed questions.

President Obama has made a commitment to protect the Americans living along the pipeline route and consider Keystone XL’s impacts on public health, safety and environment are properly understood. Health, safety and environmental protection are core values for all Americans and protecting these values is of bipartisan importance. As President Obama has said, this is a fundamentally American issue: “How do we make sure that we've got the best possible energy mix to benefit our businesses, benefit our workers but also benefit our families to make sure that the public health and safety of the American people are looked after?”

As a nation, we should be working on measures that will create jobs on a national scale while achieving true energy independence for our country. We’ve already made tremendous strides on that front.  According to Brookings, more than 2.7 million people are working in the U.S. clean energy economy right now – more than the entire fossil fuel industry put together. Clean car manufacturers have created over 151,000 quality long term jobs in the United States while saving consumers billions of dollars at the pump. Between 2003 and 2010, the clean energy sector grew nearly twice as fast as the overall economy. Moreover, a recent study found the U.S. can gain as many as 1.9 million more jobs with a comprehensive energy policy. These clean energy jobs are real, long term, and number in the millions.

Our lawmakers need to consider serious steps to get achieve energy independence and get our country back to work. Investments and jobs in clean energy is something our country can get behind. So why is Speaker Boehner pushing a divisive project that isn’t shovel ready and threatens our country’s land and water? He seems to be playing politics with the concerns of Americans all to benefit Big Oil.

About the Authors

Anthony Swift

Director, Canada Project, International program

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