US House poised to approve Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

US House poised to approve Keystone XL tar sands pipeline
The US House is expected to vote and pass legislation on Friday that would finally sanction the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would move heavy crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Republican US Rep. Bill Cassidy introduced the House’s Keystone XL legislation shortly after his opponent in the still-undecided Louisiana Senate race - incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu - introduced a measure in the Upper Chamber. Both legislators want to be seen as a key player in pushing the pipeline through Congress ahead of their Dec. 6 runoff election.

Similar pipeline measures have passed the conservative-dominated House. The Lower Chamber will vote on Cassidy’s bill on Friday, a congressional aide told Reuters early Thursday.

Meanwhile, after a successful midterm election last week, Senate Republicans and Democratic allies like Landrieu are confident that there is enough support for the tar sands pipeline to move a vote on it up from January to as early as Tuesday.

"I believe it is time to act," Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, said to her Senate colleagues Wednesday, according to AFP.

President Barack Obama - and Senate Democrats to a lesser extent - have thwarted Republican efforts to give final approval of the 1,179-mile, $7 billion pipeline that will weave its way from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, through the US Midwest and Texas, and finally to the Gulf of Mexico. The southern leg of the pipeline is already operational; it began operations in January.

Republican US Rep. Bill Cassidy (Sean Gardner/Getty Images/AFP)

Obama is likely to veto the House and Senate legislation if passed, the White House said, according to Reuters.

"Evaluating those earlier proposals, we have indicated that the president’s senior advisers at the White House have recommended that he veto legislation like that," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking to reporters in Burma during Obama’s current trip through Asia. "And that has continued to be our position."

Part of Obama’s agenda while in Asia is focused on climate change. Just this week, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced new long-term goals for limiting carbon emissions that fuel global warming.

Buoyed by big gains made during the midterm election that will put the GOP in control of the Upper Chamber, Senate Republican leaders said this week that some of their top priorities include approving the crude tar sands pipeline while chipping away at the environmental and human health regulations enforced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) (Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP)

With the support of the Republican-led Senate’s future majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Sen. James Inhofe, future chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has vowed to begin investigations into the EPA, recommend cuts to the agency’s funding, and to delay its regulatory actions as much as possible, according to the New York Times.

The Obama administration has delayed the pipeline for years, while the State Department has conducted multiple reviews of the pipeline and its potential economic, environmental, and national security ramifications. A court challenge in Nebraska over the pipeline's route has also slowed the final approval process.

Much of the resistance to the pipeline centers around increased greenhouse gas emissions connected with crude tar sands development. This requires a more energy-intensive process than the production of plain crude oil, since a substance known as bitumen must be extracted from the Alberta tar sands through means such as surface mining or injecting steam into the ground.

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo/Pablo Martinez)

Opponents of Keystone XL have several concerns regarding the pipeline – including the carbon-intensive impact from tar sands extraction, which they believe will worsen the effects of climate change. They are also concerned that the pipeline will put nearby communities at risk of oil spills into water supplies.

Critics have also pointed out that most of the oil that will travel through Keystone XL will go to growing economies overseas - like China - that have an increasing demand for more fossil fuels. The pipeline, detractors say, is unlikely to lower the price of gasoline in the US.

Environmentalists, many who have zip-tied themselves to the fence of the White House, rally and call on President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, in Washington, March 2, 2014. (Reuters/Mike Theiler)

Proponents echo the pipeline’s developer, energy giant TransCanada, and the Canadian government, saying the project will create tens of thousands of jobs for the communities near the pipeline in the US. The State Department has made a far more modest prediction, estimating that the pipeline will create an immediate 5,000 to 6,000 jobs. Others, however, have said that long-term job creation is nowhere near either estimate.

"The most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline, which might take a year or two, and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people,” President Obama said in July 2013.