WASHINGTON — An influential Colorado House Democrat is rethinking her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver said she is undecided on legislation to allow the construction of the tar sands pipeline to continue.
“What I want to make sure is the bill will comply with all of the environmental regulations,” she said in an interview off the House floor Wednesday. “I want to review the bill again.”
As a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, DeGette voted “no” on the Northern Route Approval Act when the panel weighed the bill April 16. On Wednesday, the House Committee on Natural Resources also voted on the legislation. The bill passed both committees and its final passage in the full House appears likely.
Lawmakers reconsider their votes on legislation between the time they vote on a bill in the committee room and on the House floor periodically. Yet DeGette’s shift highlights the divisions within the Democratic Party about the construction of a major oil pipeline that unions say would create jobs for their members and greens say would harm the environment.
The legislation would bypass President Obama’s authority to allow the construction of the 1,179-mile pipeline to continue. Sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) the bill has attracted some bipartisan support. The vote in the Energy and Commerce Committee was 30 to 18, with four Democrats joining 26 Republicans to support the bill. The vote in the Natural Resources Committee was 24 to 17, with one Democrat joining 23 Republicans to vote for the measure.
Two Colorado House Republicans portrayed the bill as a commonsense step to boost the economy and the energy sector.
“A project creating tens of thousands of American jobs, transporting millions of barrels of oil from a friendly northern neighbor, and significantly contributing to our energy security is clearly in the best interests in the United States, even if President Obama does not agree,” Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, a member of the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.
“It’s about national energy security, it’s about jobs, it’s about lowering gas prices,” Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an interview.
The pipeline would run from the tar sands of Canada to Nebraska, a route that would fall 300 miles east of Colorado. Supporters say the project will create 20,000 jobs directly and more than 100,00 jobs indirectly. Those include the Laborers International Union of North America as well as plumbers and pipefitters unions. The group have urged President Obama to build the pipeline.
Opponents of the pipeline say it could spill, would add to the carbon footprint, and directly threatens 20 imperiled species such as the whooping crane and the pallid sturgeon. Those include the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National Wildlife Federation.
DeGette voted no on legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline in July 2011, while Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) voted for the bill.
Colorado’s two Democratic senators too ended up on different sides of the Keystone XL debate last month. Michael Bennet voted for legislation to build the pipeline, while Mark Udall voted against it.
Democratic lawmakers who rely on the support of union members are caught between the conflicting demands of them and competing constituencies within the party. Adding to the difficulty of the decision for them is the State Department’s report last month that concluded the pipeline would not contribute to global warming. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has called for more detailed environmental analysis of the pipeline.
This is not the first time DeGette has needed to reconcile the competing interests of labor and other Democratic constituencies. In May 2000, she voted to normalize trade relations with China permanently. Her vote infuriated labor groups, and they helped finance a Denver councilwoman, Ramona Martinez, to oppose her in the Democratic primary in 2002. DeGette prevailed, but the race was among the veteran lawmaker’s closest.
The House is expected to vote on the Northern Route Approval Act next month.