WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed a bill to bypass President Barack Obama and approve the Keystone XL pipeline ending five years of studies and what Republicans described as bureaucratic stonewalling to appease extremist environmentalists.
Nearly 20 Democrats sided with the Republican caucus to pass the bill on a 241-175 vote, but the White House has already threatened to veto the measure.
“These delays are taking longer than it took the greatest generation to win World War II,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), the bill’s author.
“The agenda has been taken over by the left wing extremists,” Terry said. “They have stated their number one issue is to kill this pipeline. That’s what the real agenda is here.”
The pipeline would stretch from Canada to Texas and is 70 percent complete, but the project still requires the president’s signature on a permit declaring it in the national interest before the final leg can be built 875 miles from Nebraska to cross the northern U.S. border.
The Obama administration has so far taken 1,700 days to consider the request through ten different federal agencies including the State Department, and produced 15,000 study documents.
“It’s time the hijacking of this agenda ends,” said Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).
“It saddens me to think that this debate has come down to a debate over job snobs, people who believe that theses aren’t the kind of jobs that we want, the kind of people we want working on these jobs,” Gardner said.
“It’s not about whether this is a pipeline that is good or bad for the environment, it’s people who believe that these are the kind of jobs we want in this country and I think it’s a shame that we’re having that debate on the House floor right now,” Gardner said.
Supporters of the pipeline say it will transport 800,000 barrels of oil a day and ultimately lessen the country’s dependence on the Middle East for oil.
“The Northern Route Approval Act removes the president’s veto and will ensure that after years of extensive studies, construction of the pipeline can move forward so Americans can begin to benefit from this tremendous opportunity,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).
“If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity, somebody else will, probably China,” Lamborn said. “Since the president refuses to act, Congress will.”
The Keystone XL pipeline is a private infrastructure project that will cost $7 billion in non-government funds and create 4,000 jobs along the construction route over a two-year period.
“Americans are tired of not planning for the future, we need to unleash that potential to be able to put our people back to work,” said Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.).
Opponents argued that the pipeline would increase greenhouse gas emissions and increase gas prices at the pump.
“If we want to talk about lowering gas prices, let’s increase fuel efficiency,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), adding that alternative fuels and public transportation should be pursued rather than the pipeline to reduce costs at the pump.
“That’s like saying gravity doesn’t exist and the earth is flat,” said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana.
“What are we waiting for, more studies?” Fleming asked. “This project has been studied to death. Obama’s State Department has politicized this process to kowtow to the far left environmental fringe.”
Democrats countered that the project needs to repeat the environmental studies because some of the pipeline was rerouted after opponents complained it crossed through an environmentally sensitive area of the Nebraska sandhills.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) said the bill would allow the permit process to be “hijacked by the right wing.”
“This is a bumper sticker bill … born of fancy, not fact,” Rahall said. “Let’s dispense with these kindergarten tactics.”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) went a step further and said the pipeline is not needed and the U.S. does not need to import oil from any foreign country.
“We don’t need it, we have our own sources of oil in the U.S.,” Waxman said.
This is the fourth time in two years the House has passed legislation to force the president to act on the pipeline.
“In the words of Yogi Berra, ‘it’s déjà vu all over again,’” Polis said. “This is the worst … we’ve seen, a thinly veiled measure that guts important laws and waives judicial review.”
The Senate voted earlier this year 62-37 on a different version of legislation to break the president’s logjam, but it is unlikely Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will bring up the House Republican measure for consideration.
The White House issued the veto threat on Tuesday stating that the bill “prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could have serious security, safety, environmental and other ramifications.”
Interestingly, Obama issued a presidential direction last week to federal agencies demanding they reduce bureaucratic red tape and cut the time in half for groundbreaking on major infrastructure projects.
“One of the problems we’ve had in the past is that sometimes it takes too long to get projects off the ground,” Obama said. “There are all these permits and red tape and planning and this and that, and some of it’s important to do, but we could do it faster.”
The pipeline project was first submitted to U.S. officials in 2008 with a decision expected by year’s end or early in 2014.
“If we waited on the environmentalists to make up their mind, we would never have built the Panama Canal,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas). “Mr. president, pick a horse and ride it. Sign the deal.”