White House, GOP spar over Keystone amendment
UPDATED 2:57 p.m. ET
President Obama is personally calling senators to urge them to vote against an amendment to the transportation bill now being debated in Congress that would authorize construction of the Keystone Pipeline from Alberta to the Midwest and Gulf Coast, a White House official confirmed to CBS News.
The amendment, from North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven, would authorize construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline to transport crude from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. Mr. Obama denied TransCanada's application to build the $7 billion, 1,700 mile pipeline in January amid concerns about the environmental impact in the sensitive Sand Hills area of Nebraska. He said he was willing to revisit the decision but that a Republican-mandated timeline did not allow enough time for an environmental impact assessment.
The U.S. State Department has jurisdiction over the project because the pipeline would cross an international border. Hoeven says that Congress can circumvent Mr. Obama under the authority provided by the commerce clause to the Constitution.
Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said the amendment reflects the fact that "Republicans are trying to play politics with a pipeline project whose route has yet to be proposed, and despite the claims that this would somehow solve the pain families are feeling at the pump today, according to the company it would take years before it transported a drop of oil."
"The fact is that earlier this week, TransCanada acknowledged they still have not identified an alternate route that addresses the legitimate concerns raised by the Republican Governor of Nebraska, as well as local communities, and right now there is no application to assess," he continued.
Added Stevens: "As the president has made clear, we will ensure any project receives the important assessment it deserves, and the Administration will base a decision to provide a permit on the completion of that review, a process that was unfortunately blocked by Republicans in December. Meanwhile we continue to take steps to support American made energy, including doing all we can to expedite construction of a pipeline from Cushing, OK, to refineries along the Gulf Coast."
Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers have hammered Mr. Obama for his decision to oppose the pipeline, which they suggest could ease rising gas prices and would create jobs. Following Politico's initial report that the president was contacting senators to urge them to oppose the Hoeven amendment, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said "it's hard to even comprehend how out of touch he is on this issue."
"I mean, think about it: at a moment when millions are out of work, gas prices are skyrocketing and the Middle East is in turmoil, we've got a president who's up making phone calls trying to block a pipeline here at home," he said in a statement. "It's unbelievable."
House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that "by personally lobbying against the Keystone pipeline, it means the president of the United States is lobbying for sending North American energy to China and lobbying against American jobs."
The Senate is set to vote on the Keystone amendment - one of 30 amendments to the transportation bill, which has attracted a number of unrelated measures, including the controversial Blunt Amendment - later today, or possibly on Tuesday. A separate amendment, from Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, would mandate that oil brought into the country via the Keystone pipeline could not be exported. The amendments need 60 votes for passage.
Hoeven released a statement Thursday saying the Democratic amendment "will force refiners to sell gas at a higher price" because "some refined products can't be used in our country."
"Congress should pass the straightforward Keystone XL pipeline amendment that I proposed with Sens. Lugar and Vitter," he said. "Our amendment provides all necessary safeguards, including whatever time is necessary to address the Nebraska route. It allows construction to go forward on the Keystone XL pipeline to help lower rising gas prices, which are hurting American consumers and our economy, and to reduce our nation's dependence on oil from the Middle East."
With reporting by CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.
Popular in Politics
- Obama and Berlin: Faded echoes meet new realities
- Senators: U.S. must take "more decisive" military action in Syria
- Immigration reform would cut deficit, analysis shows
- House Republicans pass 20-week limit on abortions 229 Comments
- Smooth, on-time Obamacare rollout no sure thing: GAO
- Obama renews push for a nuclear disarmament legacy
- Bill Ayers: Obama should be tried for war crimes
- Snowden: U.S. gov't destroyed my chance for fair trial