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A Vote Smart Guide to the Keystone XL Pipeline

29 March 2013

The Keystone XL Pipeline: it's been dominating headlines for what seems like forever. There have been a number of related speeches and protests, and passion exists on both sides of the issue. But what is it, and why does it matter?

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a proposed extension of the existing Keystone Pipeline. Keystone XL would run on the existing line from Alberta, Canada with the new extension going through Nebraska and on to the Gulf of Mexico. Like the existing pipeline, it would transport crude oil from both Canada and the United States. Though originally proposed in 2008, the project gained national attention in late 2011 when it came up for executive approval.

In November 2011, President Obama announced that he was directing the State Department to look into the feasibility of building the pipeline. Later that month, in a bill extending the payroll tax cut, Congress included language forcing the President to make a decision, either approving or denying the application, within 60 days.

Once those 60 days were up, the President ended up rejecting the pipeline. In his speech, he explained that the imposed deadline prevented a thorough review of the project's merits and drawbacks. But he made clear that was open to its approval in the future.

Congress has tried multiple times to allow the project to proceed without presidential approval. Two pieces of legislation included such language in 2012, though both failed to pass. One House bill sought to automatically grant the proper permits regardless of the President's actions. A subsequent Senate amendment attempted to exempt the project from any further executive review.

Environmentalists and lawmakers like Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have voiced their opposition to the project, particularly to its proposed route. One of their major hangups was that the initially proposed route passed through two environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska: the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer. TransCanada – the company that wants to build the pipeline – revised the route to avoid the Sand Hills and particularly sensitive parts of the Aquifer, and Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R-NE) subsequently lent his support to the project, sending this letter to President Obama.

Recently, a bipartisan group of Senators has urged the President to approve the pipeline too, sending a letter outlining their support for its construction. Another letter urging approval – this one from 145 members of the House from both parties – also made its way to the President's desk.

In addition, a group of Republican Governors – from both states through which the pipeline would pass and and states through which it would not – lent support in a joint letter. Montana's Democratic Governor Steve Bullock also made clear his approval of the pipeline, which includes an on-ramp in the town of Baker, Montana. These legislators and governors believe the project will promote job creation and American energy independence.

But environmental groups, like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, have continued their vocal opposition. They remain concerned about the impacts of the project on climate change and believe that its rejection would send a powerful message about the Obama Administration's commitment to weaning the United States off fossil fuels. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) expressed such sentiments last August.

President Obama is expected to make another decision on the future of the project sometime soon. Be sure to check for more info and updates.

Related tags: blog, California, key-votes, Montana, Nebraska

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