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Tar sands of Alberta
There's a process for approving projects like the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry petroleum from the tar sand deposits of Alberta to the refineries of the Texas Gulf Coast. That process is set by the National Environmental Protection Act that requires approval of an environmental impact statement, which includes a response to any public comments delivered to agency in charge. In this case, that is the State Department.

Because the pipeline would cross international boundaries, the process also requires a presidential permit under George's Bush's 2004 Executive Order 13337, which is an amendment to the 1968 Executive Order 11423, which states "... the proper conduct of the foreign relations of the United States requires that executive permission be obtained for the construction and maintenance at the borders of the United States of facilities connecting the United States with a foreign country." The president must determine that any such project serves the national interest.

Not good enough for certain members of Congress, mostly Republicans, but including some Democrats. They want an immediate decision on the pipeline. To get it, they seek to short-circuit NEPA and the presidential permit process by taking authority over the pipeline's approval out of the president's hands. On Wednesday, they will vote on HR 3, the Northern Route Approval Act. The bill:

Declares that a Presidential permit shall not be required for the pipeline described in the application filed on May 4, 2012, by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. to the Department of State for the Keystone XL pipeline, including the Nebraska reroute evaluated in the Final Evaluation Report issued by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality in January 2013 and approved by the Nebraska governor.

Deems the final environmental impact statement issued by the Secretary of State on August 26, 2011, coupled with such Final Evaluation Report, to satisfy all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and of the National Historic Preservation Act. [...]

Directs the Secretary of the Army to issue permits pursuant the Rivers and Harbors Appropriations Act of 1899 for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Keystone XL pipeline. [...]

Prohibits the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from prohibiting or restricting an activity or use of an area that is authorized under this Act.

The bill likely will pass the House. And unlike many other bills originating there, this one has at least a chance of gaining support in the Senate. In March, the Senate voted in favor of the pipeline 62-to-37 in a symbolic, non-binding resolution. Seventeen of those votes were Democrats. But the president has repeatedly made it clear that he will never agree to a law that takes away his authority to approve or reject the pipeline. Below the fold, you can read about why the decision on the pipeline is likely many months away.

Exactly when such a decision might be announced is anybody's guess. But it might not happen until early 2014.

After Obama rejected the draft environmental impact statement in January 2012, pipeline builder TransCanada reapplied, adjusting its proposed route through Nebraska to protect fragile wetlands. The State Department commissioned a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. After that supplement was released March 1, the EPA excoriated it for providing "insufficient information." The State Department received more than a million public comments by the April 22 deadline as part of a campaign supported by numerous environmental groups as well as blogathon here at Daily Kos.

If the State Department decides to approve and finalize the draft SEIS, it will then send its recommendations to Obama. That will begin the presidential permitting phase of the process, which requires input from several other agencies to determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest. That phase normally takes 90 days:

"The president has to be able to show that the administration looked under every stone to ensure it knew as much as it possibly could about the impact of Keystone," said the official, who did not want to be named given the sensitive nature of the project.
The sensitive nature of the project makes no never-mind to the majority in the House and Senate. The question now seems to be whether enough Democratic senators will join what is likely to be Republican unanimity for taking the president's approval authority away. If they do, Obama likely will veto, even though most close observers believe the signals indicate that he will ultimately give the pipeline a green light.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon May 20, 2013 at 10:02 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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