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U.S. House Approves Keystone Pipeline; Clay, Cleaver Are Delegation's Only 'No' Votes

Rep. Lacy Clay
St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. William Lacy Clay spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives this morning about the tragic shooting in Arizona. (St. Louis Public Radio)

U.S. House lawmakers approved construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline Friday on a mostly party-line vote of 266 to 153, with 28 Democrats joining 238 Republicans to approve passage.

The vote caps a week of quick moves by the new Republican majority to put its stamp on the 114th Congress. All of the House Republicans from Missouri and Illinois voted for the pipeline, but Missouri’s two Democratic representatives, Lacy Clay of University City and Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, voted against the measure.

Clay called passage a “Republican giveaway to big oil” and said the pipeline “could pose a serious environmental threat.”  He also said the pipeline will have “zero impact on U.S. energy independence” and infringes on rights of private property owners.

The House vote came within hours of a ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which struck down a lawsuit brought by landowners who challenged the pipeline’s route through that state. The Obama administration had pointed to the Nebraska case, in part, for its continued delay in in granting TransCanada’s permit application for the pipeline’s construction.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says that with the Nebraska court’s ruling, “President Obama is out of excuses. It’s time to approve this common-sense job-creating infrastructure project and put Americans back to work.”  

Cleaver has called the legislation a “special interest earmark for TransCanada,” the Canadian company seeking a presidential permit to build the pipeline. Cleaver said that the “worst abuse” in the bill is that it “exempts TransCanada from paying into the Oil Spill Liability Fund, which helps the government from responding to oil spills.” Federal regulations require U.S. companies to pay into that fund.

Republican Congressman Jim Shimkus.
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, a member of the House Energy committee, told House colleagues that the pipeline is the safest method of transporting the oil. Shimkus also challenged opponents' claims that oil from the pipeline would only pass through the U.S. on its way for export from gulf coast facilities.  “This oil is going to go to refineries in my district, in (Representative) Mike Bost’s district, Ohio, Indiana and the the gulf coast.”

Bost, the newly elected Republican representative from Murphysboro, says part of the pipeline system supplies the Wood River refinery in Illinois’ 12th congressional district. 

“In anticipation of construction of this pipeline, the owners have spent $4 billion upgrading the facility and created about 2,400 jobs over a four-year period,”  said Bost, who added that the Keystone XL pipeline would create thousands of jobs in construction, transportation and related areas.

There is no firm consensus on the actual number of jobs the pipeline would create, but most agree that thousands of temporary jobs would be created in the pipeline’s construction.  

An environmental study completed by the State Department a year ago said the pipeline would create 35 permanent jobs once the pipeline is completed.  Opponents compare that to the number of jobs created with the opening of a fast-food restaurant and say more benefit could be had by rebuilding U.S. roadways and bridges, a position echoed by Obama in his end of year news conference in December. 

What next?

The president has long maintained that Congress should not circumvent the administration’s review of the pipeline permit, and he continues to threaten a veto should a bill reach his desk. Republicans are calling on the president to drop that threat.

“I urge President Obama to embrace this component of our ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy that is expected to created tens of thousands of American jobs and ensure America’s energy security,” said U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Elizabeth, issued a statement after Friday’s vote saying he hopes that the Senate “will swiftly pass this legislation and the president will acknowledge that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline is a priority of the American people by signing this bill into law.”

The Senate is set to take up the pipeline legislation next week; both Blunt and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., are co-sponsors of the pipeline bill. But earlier this week, McCaskill issued a warning of sorts that Republicans should not “overreach” in amending the bill.

She told Missouri reporters in a conference call that she would be watching the amendment process closely to make sure Republicans don’t weaken the EPA or do other damage to environment regulations that could cause her to “abandon” her support for the bill on final passage.

The Senate’s new majority leader, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that the Senate will allow members from both parties to offer amendments to the bill. 

Any Senate changes that differ from the House language would either require the House to accept those changes or the two chambers to work out their differences before a bill would go to the president. 

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