Green Right Now Reports

Less than a month since the Obama Administration delayed the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline for at least a year, a group of GOP senators is trying to force the project to begin anyway.

The Ogallala Aquifer supports billions in crop and livestock production in the U.S. heartland.

The partisan showdown is led by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), minority chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Supporters include 37 other senators, including those from Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which would host segments of the 1,700 mile pipeline.

The pipeline operated by TransCanada Corp., and which would reportedly benefit the oil-rich Koch Industries, would carry a thick oil, called bitumen, from vast tar sands mines in Canada to refineries in Houston.

Lugar held a news conference on Wednesday to argue for the project.

The group of Senators wants the pipeline approved and ready to begin within 60 days, even though the Obama Administration delayed the project so its impact on land, water and human health could be studied and a new route potential route developed around Nebraska’s fragile Sandhills region.

A pipeline leak in the Sandhills would imperil the massive Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to most of Nebraska and to parts of other plains states.

Environmentalists, many ranchers and some citizen groups oppose the pipeline because tar sands extraction also requires extensive deforestion, uses massive amounts of water, leaves toxic trailings behind and produces more carbon emissions, per barrel, than regular oil production.

Groups of varying partisan stripes joined in two major Keystone protests at the White House this fall.

Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for Tar Sands Action, a key group organizer of the protests, said he was not surprised by the GOP senators’ effort to circumvent adequate review of the pipeline.

“This bill is a good reminder that the oil industry never sleeps. Its sponsor, Dick Lugar, has a hundred percent record of voting for dirty energy bills, and his contributors list is a who’s who of the fossil fuel industries; his co-sponsors have taken even more money from big oil,” he said. “Presumably that’s why they’re using widely-discredited figures about jobs and energy security, when the only independent studies show the pipeline would produce no net jobs, and that the oil would go straight into the global market.

“But we’re grateful to them for reminding us that any environmental victory is temporary until we break the power of corporations to influence our political life.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council also has taken issue with the move to short-circuit review of the project, which came under scrutiny earlier this year for using a lobbyist with special connections to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The State Department signaled in August that it was close to approving the pipeline. (State Department approval is needed because the pipeline crosses an international boundary.)

NRDC blogger Anthony Swift says the Republican proposal would abrogate the inquiry into influence-peddling by pipeline operator TransCanada and also asks the Obama Administration to take it on faith that a suitable new route around the Sandhills (requiring landowner approval) could be found through Nebraska. Swift writes:

It is particularly disappointing to see this bill coming from Senator Lugar, who in the past has been a champion for farmers and rural communities. TransCanada has spent years trying to railroad the American people with a poorly considered route by bullying landowners with eminent domain, threatening States with lawsuits and providing government officials with misleading information about the feasibility of alternatives. President Obama’s decision to consider a new route for the pipeline has given farmers and landowners a more level playing field when dealing with TransCanada. Forcing the President to approve a route, sight unseen, would pull the carpet out from under the feet of these landowners and the State of Nebraska.

The Lugar proposal, called the North American Energy Security Act, calls for construction of the pipeline to begin within 60 days in all the affected states except Nebraska, where state lawmakers enacted new laws to better regulate oil pipelines and also agreed that a re-routing is needed.

A statement from Lugar’s office explains that the senators see the project as helping the economy and the nation’s energy security and criticizes the Obama Administration for “failing to grasp the potential of energy security within North America.”

“Robust secure and reliable trade with Canada complements our need to aggressively pursue domestic alternatives to oil imports from less friendly nations,” Lugar writes.

Furthermore, the project represents a $7 billion private sector investment in the U.S., and would employ 20,000 people, according to the Indiana senator.

Those numbers, however, have been shown to be vastly inflated by a Cornell University study, which looked at the permit application to the State Department, and concluded the project would employ fewer than 5,000 mostly temporary workers.

Environmentalists have long argued that the tar sands oil will be sold on the global market, raising questions about how much security the tar sands will provide the U.S..

Kessler, of Tar Sands Action, said the GOP senators are short-sighted in failing to recognize the heavy environmental toll of tar sands extraction and use.

“In a world that wasn’t governed by money, you’d think some Senator on this list would have at least responded to the analysis of the federal government’s top climate scientist, NASA’s James Hansen: tap the tar sands heavily and it’s “essentially game over” for the climate. But clearly they’ve decided atmospheric chemistry is less important than campaign cash.”

Lugar won’t face much heat over a decision either for or against the Keystone pipeline, which won’t run through Indiana. But several of the senators signing on to his proposal do have to answer to constituents.

The bill cannot pass without some Democrats joining the effort, which is considered unlikely, though some of the bill’s sponsors will reportedly be meeting with Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry, (D-Mass.).

The GOP senators joining the push for a quick permitting of the Keystone pipeline include Lugar’s co-sponsors John Hoeven (R-N.D.); David Vitter (R-La); Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Mitch McConnell (R-Kty); Mike Johanns (R-Neb.); Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.),

Additional co-sponsors include: John Cornyn (R-Texas), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Jeff Sessions(R-Ala.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

More resources:

Open Secrets carries information on campaign contributors to Lugar, and all U.S. Senators.

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