By Penny Starr
(Update: Adds State Department statement.)
(CNSNews.com) – Senate Republicans have introduced legislation that would direct the State Department to issue permits to begin construction of the 1,700-mile Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada to U.S. refineries – a project they say will create 20,000 jobs, increase domestic energy security and generate revenue.
“Jobs will be created right away and billions of dollars in investment will be unleashed through legislation introduced to permit the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, the largest infrastructure project ready in the United States, to commence construction,” Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) told a press conference on Wednesday.
Lugar, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is lead sponsor of the new North American Energy Security Act.
In a jab to President Obama’s promotion of creating jobs through new or improved infrastructure and “shovel-ready” projects, the GOP senators said the pipeline qualifies as both. Obama’s decision to delay the approval process until after the 2012 election is putting politics above job creation, they charged.
“There is absolutely no reason to delay a permit decision on the Keystone pipeline – and the jobs that come with it – for another year in a blatant attempt to appease the president’s political base,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at the conference.
Because the project involves a foreign country, the State Department has jurisdiction over the permitting process.
Following a three-year federal review of the final Environmental Impact Statement a decision had been expected by the end of the year, but the administration last month delayed the decision until after next year’s election. The senators attributed the decision to pressure from environmentalist groups opposed to the pipeline.
The newly-introduced bill does address environmental concerns in Nebraska, whose state legislature recently approved a plan to amend some of the project’s route while not delaying construction elsewhere.
“This bill respects the Nebraska process to protect the Sand Hills while providing a commonsense approach to bring friendly oil and jobs to the U.S. without unnecessary delay,” said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).
The lawmakers said the pipeline could reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil by bringing as much as 700,000 barrels of oil a day into the country from Canada.
Aside from jobs directly created in construction and pipeline operation, the private sector project is expected also to boost economic growth for the more than 1,400 U.S. companies that sell products and services for oil sands production and transport.
So far, the bill has 37 Republicans sponsors, but it faces an uncertain future in a Democrat-controlled Senate.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner did not have an immediate response Wednesday to the Keystone bill, but told a press briefing, “we continue to work closely and consult closely with Congress as we move forward in conducting our study and our assessment.”
Toner later issued the following statement: “The Department remains committed to ensuring a transparent, thorough and rigorous review of whether the proposed pipeline project is in the national interest. Consistent with Executive Order 13337, after consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, we determined it is necessary to specifically assess alternative routes around the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sand Hills. Based on past experience and possible total mileage of alternative routes that would need to be reviewed, we anticipate the evaluation could conclude as early as the first quarter of 2013. We look forward to continuing to consult with Congress as this process moves forward.”