ENERGY POLICY:

Waxman fights for mic to question Obama on climate; president promises pipeline decision this year

In his last round of Capitol Hill meetings of the week, President Obama yesterday heard from a feisty House Democrat on the need to combat climate change and promised Senate Republicans a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline before the end of the year.

During Obama's meeting with House Democrats yesterday afternoon, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) muscled his way to the microphone as the session was wrapping up to urge the president to use his "bully pulpit" more to address climate change. Waxman addressed Obama despite other members being told to sit down because questions were over, but the president acknowledged him because of the seniority conferred by nearly four decades in the House, the California Democrat told reporters yesterday.

"They were cutting off questions. I went forward [and] tried to ask my question anyways. Maybe I should or shouldn't have done" that, Waxman said. "But I wanted to make the point in that setting where the president was talking to us how important the issue of climate change was, how it's not being discussed sufficiently."

Waxman acknowledged that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, a fellow Californian, had admonished him because other members were unable to speak. But he said he felt that climate change needed to be brought up and that the president was receptive because Waxman made more of a statement than asked a question.

"Sometimes this issue gets pushed aside," he said. "And I think it is more important an issue, and will be looked at years from now as more important an issue, than budget sequestration, how to deal with the deficit, and other things that occupy our time."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) highlighted climate change among the issues discussed with the president in a post-meeting news conference.

"The recognition was that the president mentioned it very strongly in his State of the Union address, and Henry was just adding his voice to say it was such an important issue and that we should be addressing it very strongly," Pelosi said, noting that the president did not commit to any new climate policies.

Republicans hear of pending Keystone decision, fracking support

Before huddling with his fellow Democrats, Obama faced questions from Senate Republicans, who presented expanded energy production and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline as policies his administration could pursue to boost the economy.

As in his meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday, Obama downplayed environmentalists' worries about Keystone XL as well as supporters' claims about its economic benefits (E&E Daily, March 14). He again did not indicate how he would decide on the issue but said a verdict would be reached before the end of this year, GOP senators said.

"He said I've already approved part of the pipeline within the United States, so he said we're not ideologically adverse," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters after the meeting. "He said some of the environmental concerns have been overexaggerated."

Barrasso and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) both said they quizzed Obama on the pipeline. Hoeven said he asked the president to agree to a timeline for a final decision but could not get anything more definitive than before the end of this year.

The president pointed to the ongoing State Department review of the line's new route through Nebraska and said that process needed to wrap up before he could decide. The State Department is expected to complete its review in July or August at the earliest.

Hoeven and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) yesterday introduced legislation that would force approval of the pipeline, which would primarily carry crude from Alberta's oil sands to refineries along the Gulf Coast (Greenwire, March 14). And Hoeven told the president that supporters would continue their legislative push.

"I said it's been five years -- we need something more specific," Hoeven told reporters. "And then I told him about the legislation we're going to continue to press forward on."

House and Senate supporters of the pipeline will hold a news conference this morning at the Capitol to discuss their legislation. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) is expected to unveil his pro-pipeline legislation today, as well.

Barrasso said the president at his meeting with Senate Republicans also reiterated his support for hydraulic fracturing, which has unlocked massive new supplies of natural gas, and for increased U.S. production of oil and natural gas.

"So I don't know what he's going to do," Barrasso said. "But he started with his opening comments saying, he said our task is to find common ground and to send a signal to businesses that America is on the move."

Reporter Manuel Quinones contributed.

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