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Top Officials Face Questions on Keystone Permits

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A key Republican lawmaker expressed frustration yesterday over permits related to the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.

At the end of a hearing on the fiscal 2013 budget request from the Army Corps of Engineers, Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, questioned why older permits that have been suspended had not been simply updated in order to expedite the approval process. The proposed pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands product to Gulf Coast refineries has been in political limbo, even as President Obama last week vowed to make the southern segment of the pipeline a reality.

"I'm concerned that, maybe, this is more of a political way to say we're moving forward," Gibbs said.

He made the remarks in response to earlier comments from the witness panel. Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said the older section 404 permits submitted by TransCanada were suspended after the Obama administration decided to block the original plan for the pipeline. Section 404 permits regulate the release of dredged or fill material into U.S. waters, according to U.S. EPA's website.

TransCanada, Darcy said, needs to reapply for the permits in the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline -- and had not yet submitted new permits.

"Because it's part of a new project and has a new purpose and need -- which has to be demonstrated in the permit application -- we need to look at those new permits from that perspective," Darcy said.

But Gibbs contends that making TransCanada reapply drags out the process.

The hearing came after Obama vowed last week to "break through the bureaucratic hurdles" involved with the proposed XL route from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast (Greenwire, March 22).

Lawmakers discuss harbor trust fund

Aside from questions on the Keystone permits, Army Corps officials also fielded several queries about the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

The fiscal 2013 budget calls for a 12 percent bump from fiscal 2012, raising funding to $848 million. Through taxes on goods coming from U.S. docks, the fund takes in about $1.5 billion each year. However, only about half that money gets allocated toward dredging and other harbor maintenance needs (Greenwire, Feb. 14). The rest is used to offset other costs in the budget.

"This is a problem of long-standing and bipartisan causation," said the subcommittee's senior Democrat, New York Rep. Tim Bishop. He added that every president since Ronald Reagan established the fund has used the tactic.

Bishop and Gibbs said they favored spending down the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. And both pointed to the RAMP Act (H.R. 104), proposed legislation that would ensure the funds brought into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are used for the dredging and port maintenance (E&E Daily, Oct. 28, 2011).

In all, the White House's fiscal 2013 budget request called for $4.7 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers -- a 5.4 percent reduction from last year's funding levels. The request would mark a return to 2003 funding levels for the Army Corps (Greenwire, Feb. 13).


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