WASHINGTON — House Republicans pushed a proposal today to bypass the president to speed approval of the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to Texas. Democrats criticized the plan as a blatant attempt to allow a foreign company to avoid environmental review.
As debate opened, Republicans said the measure was needed to ensure the long-delayed pipeline is built.
"This is the most studied pipeline in the history of mankind," said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., the bill's sponsor.
"When is enough enough?" added Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. "Five years? Six years? Ten years?"
But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., called the bill a "reckless attempt to avoid environmental review." The bill would deem the project approved without a presidential permit, as required under current law, and with no further environmental review. The legislation also would limit legal challenges to the project.
The White House says President Barack Obama opposes the bill because it would "circumvent longstanding and proven processes" by removing a requirement for a presidential permit.
The $7 billion pipeline, first proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada in September 2008, would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Supporters say the pipeline would create thousands of jobs, help lower fuel prices and bolster North American energy resources.
Opponents call the project a "carbon bomb" that would carry "dirty oil" that could trigger global warming. They also worry about a spill. Converting tar sands into oil can uses as much as 15 percent more energy than conventional oil production.
Obama has twice thwarted the pipeline project amid concerns about a proposed route through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska, even as the White House approved a southern portion of the project from Oklahoma to Texas. The 1,700-mile pipeline would travel though Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma on its way to refineries near Houston and Port Arthur, Texas.
The State Department, which has completed more than 15,000 pages of environmental review on the proposed pipeline over the years, said in a draft report this spring that the project was unlikely to cause significant environmental impact to most resources along the planned route. The report also said other options to move the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, such as trucks or rail cars, would be far worse for climate change.
The State Department expects to issue a final report this summer. The department has authority over the pipeline because it crosses a U.S. border.
This latest attempt to speed the pipeline marks at least the fourth time the House has tried to do so.