Intense negotiations are under way behind closed doors in Washington, D.C., as congressional leaders horse-trade the main provisions and the various riders attached to the pending Transportation Bill.
Election-year politicking is threatening to kill the bill entirely, however, as John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, promises to secure an earmark to fast-track the KeystoneXL oil pipeline, despite President Obama’s repeated warning that any bill that attempts to remove basic environmental reviews will be met with a veto.
At stake for the nation’s economy is the biggest jobs bill since the stimulus package of early 2009. If this new transportation bill passes Oregon stands to gain 20,000 jobs between 2012-2013 from these public works and enhancement dollars.
Oregonians have even more at stake because a number of other helpful jobs related provisions are already attached to Transportation Bill, including Representative DeFazio’s Secure Rural Schools Act that would help replace federal timber payments as well as the continuation of the Land Water Conservation Fund that has helped Oregon park facilities and conservation strategies with an average of $1 million per year for over 50 years.
As if the idea of trading all that just to offer yet another gift to the oil industry wasn’t bad enough, also at risk in the passage of the Transportation Bill is the RESTORE Act, a bipartisan agreement to disburse the BP gulf disaster settlement to help clean up the devastated ecosystems and rebuild the local fishing and tourism economies caused by the tragic spill in the gulf coast region.
There’s even more at risk for our climate. If Boehner succeeds in fast-tracking the KeystoneXL pipeline, he’ll be fast-tracking the development of the tar sands beneath northern Canada’s boreal forest. The tar sands are the world’s lowest grade of mineable carbon deposits, requiring extraordinary energy to extract and refine into synthetic petroleum. Because of their comparatively high carbon intensity, NASA’s chief climatologist, James Hansen, warns that the becoming dependent on the tar sands will remove all hope of keeping our climate system from going out of control.
To ad insult to the injury of any bill that would fast-track the KeystoneXL, the pipeline’s already leased capacity is contracted for export, and it’s only impact to American consumers will be to relieve an oil supply bottleneck in the Midwest, causing consumer prices to spike an extra $.25 per gallon according to industry experts.
Sen. Ron Wyden notes, “This is an environmentally and economically dubious project which is why I opposed fast tracking it in the Senate bill and oppose House efforts to include it in the conference committee. “
The KeystoneXL has been on hold since farm owners, conservationists and agency watchdogs warned that the pipeline’s route needlessly put critical farmland irrigation and drinking water at risk where the pipeline threatened to cut across the nation’s largest aquifer, the Ogallala, on its way from Canada to Texas.
Less than one month ago pipeline developers submitted a brand new route for regulatory approval that promises to reduce groundwater risks in Nebraska. Instead of allowing the EPA and the state of Nebraska to conduct the normal reviews that would ordinarily take up to nine months for hydrologists, geologists, and biologists to evaluate, yet Boehner insists that the Congress take over and legislate the KeystoneXL’s immediate approval.
This poison pill threatens to kill the joint House & Senate conference committee’s ability to agree on a compromise bill. Let’s hope Congress doesn’t swallow it.