Hill supporters ponder limited options, new reality

By Manuel Quiñones, Geof Koss | 11/10/2015 07:04 AM EST

Republican lawmakers say TransCanada Corp. remains set on building the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta — and they remain committed to helping the company achieve its goal.

Republican lawmakers say TransCanada Corp. remains set on building the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta — and they remain committed to helping the company achieve its goal.

On Friday, after seven years of deliberations, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama decided to deny TransCanada permission to cross the international border.

Now pro-KXL lawmakers are mulling their limited options. One of them could involve threatening to shut down the government over the project. But the most popular option seems to be waiting.


"I can’t say specifically what is going to work or what isn’t going to work, but there’s going to be a huge effort," Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told E&E Daily last night.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), one of TransCanada’s top defenders on Capitol Hill, said, "They’re going to continue the effort, and as soon as Congress can move it, that’s what they want.

Congress could easily pass stand-alone legislation to approve KXL, just as it did earlier this year. The problem is getting a veto-proof majority. Supporters would need four more votes in the Senate and roughly 20 more in the House.

"Obviously it’s tough getting two-thirds," Hoeven said. "We’re at 63, but everybody’s pretty well settled in, so it’s hard to move anybody. So really it comes down to attaching it to something, or we’re looking at the next administration."

Inhofe has expressed skepticism about attaching KXL to the pending transportation reauthorization. Trying to push the issue in the spending bill to keep the government funded past Dec. 11 could put lawmakers on a collision course with the White House, raising the specter of a shutdown.

Obama touted his decision during remarks last night: "America is leading the world towards dealing with climate change in a serious way. Approving that project would have undercut our global leadership. And we’ve got to lead by example."

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a pipeline supporter, said she plans to talk to some of the Democrats fence-sitters "and see if they are willing to turn their minds at this point."

Inhofe predicted that Democrats may be willing to support Keystone XL legislation as it gets closer to next year’s elections.

"Clearly this is something the American people want," he said.

Hoeven, too, predicted that KXL will be a recurring issue as the November 2016 elections get closer. "You want to talk about a bread-and-butter issue, jobs and national security," he said.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), one pro-KXL target, said last night that he would have to consider the specifics of any legislation favoring the pipeline but is "inclined" against moving from the "no" to "yes" column on approval through legislation.

Asked whether the president’s decision to reject KXL would persuade more Democrats to intervene in the project’s favor, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another supporter, replied, "I haven’t heard that."

Manchin added, "With the president doing what he did, it makes it more challenging. We knew that." He floated the possibility of waiting "till 2017."

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, "We’ll do everything we can if somebody can figure out a way to advance this project, but I hope a new administration will look at it differently."

GOP writes Canada

Several Republican lawmakers — including Reps. Brian Babin of Texas and John Fleming of Louisiana — are collecting signatures on a draft letter to Canadian leaders urging them not to give up on KXL.

"We wish to reiterate that these actions taken by the current administration do not reflect the overwhelming, bipartisan consensus on this issue within the United States Congress," says the draft letter.

The missive encourages Canadian leaders against pushing for an alternative to KXL and instead advises them to wait for the result of next year’s U.S. elections.

"Simply put, if the American People choose a president who supports building Keystone XL, that president can reverse this misguided decision and authorize the project the day he or she takes office," the letter says.

Senior administration officials said last week that TransCanada would have to reapply for permission to build KXL if Obama’s decision stands.

The top three Democratic candidates for president are all opposed to KXL. The front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was endorsed yesterday by the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, expressed pride in Obama’s rejection.

But even if one of the Democrats wins, the configuration on Capitol Hill may be sufficiently different to quash a presidential veto of pro-KXL legislation — something highly unlikely to happen now.

Taking aim at permitting

Beyond the discussion about KXL, lawmakers like Hoeven and Heitkamp want to dust off legislation to reform the permitting process for transboundary projects.

"I have kind of turned my attention to how we can fix the process, which is horribly broken," she told E&E Daily. "This clearly was a political decision, there was no doubt about it. In fact, they admitted it in their discussion."

Hoeven said Obama’s decision may rekindle interest in bipartisan legislation (S. 1228) he introduced with Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) this year.

The bill would "streamline and takes the politics out" of the process, including by imposing a 120-day deadline on the State Department to make a final decision after reviewing the environmental impacts of a project.

"I think it will get it some momentum," Hoeven said.