John Boehner & House Republicans Have It Wrong: Don’t Force Barack Obama to Rush the XL Pipeline

On Tuesday, House Republicans advanced legislation that would strip President Barack Obama’s power to block the the current proposal for the TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline and instead give authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The bill voted out of the Energy and Commerce Committee would require FERC to approve 1,661 mile oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Texas within 30 days.

The GOP should not attempt to reverse the sound decision on the pipeline made by the White House. The arguments made by Republicans on the Hill do not make a compelling case for rushing to a decision without a full assessment of the impact of the pipelines proposed route.

The two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, passed in December, included a Republican provision that forced the president to decide the fate of the pipeline within 60 days. Due to the arbitrary nature of the deadline which prevented the State Department from collecting the information needed to approve the project, on January 17 the administration turned down the application for the pipeline.

Some Republicans have accused the White House of blocking a project that would create thousands of jobs. During the debate over the project, the oil industry released a series of studies that claimed the pipeline construction would create 20,000 temporary U.S. jobs and that lower oil prices would create 250,000 more jobs.

Both statistics are severely flawed. The first number is in terms of “person-years” of employment that means a single job that lasts two years is counted twice. The other number is based on an undefined “lower price.” If the pipeline were never built it would likely add less than a dollar a barrel to the long-term price of oil, which is insignificant when the price of a barrel is over $100.

Whatever the number of jobs, this argument is missing the point. The real issue is that the imposed deadline cut short critical assessment of the route offered in the TransCanada application that crosses Nebraska’s Sand Hills region and the Ogallala aquifer. The system covers 174,000 square miles beneath eight different states, from North Dakota to Texas, and from Nebraska to New Mexico. Twenty percent of the irrigated farmland in the United States depends upon the aquifer.

The Environmental Protection Agency rated a draft of the State Department’s draft environmental impact assessment as "Insufficient Information." The EPA stated that the analysis didn’t go far enough toward addressing serious potential water resource impacts. The Republican governor of Nebraska also requested an alternate route stating on Nebraska radio: “We need a proposed route that goes around the Sand Hills.”

Given that spill from oil pipelines are a fairly common occurrence — such as the ExxonMobil pipeline under the Yellowstone River that ruptured last year dumped up to 1,500 barrels of oil into the river — its reasonable to expect that time be given for sufficient analysis.

With an alternative route Nebraska’s precious water resources can be protected and the pipeline can be built.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore