Keystone XL Pipeline Could be Key to Passage of Transportation Bill

The big issue facing Congress as they return from their weeklong recess is to convene a conference committee this Tuesday in hopes of developing a consensus on transportation policy.  Center to the bill will be the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.  The House version of the transportation and infrastructure bill approves the pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, but  the Senate’s plan omits the provision.  There will be much jockeying by lobbyists and special interest groups for the pipeline to make the final cut.  Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Friday called for Keystone’s approval.  Developer TransCanada Corp. formally reapplied for a federal cross-border permit Friday, which in turn revived industry and GOP calls for the White House to approve the project.  Even with that,  advocates face a tough climb getting mandatory Keystone approval into a final transportation bill.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 8-6 among the Senate negotiators. Among those Democrats, only Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.) has voted in favor of including Keystone in the bill, but he has signaled that he’s unlikely to insist on the provision.  As I've often pointed out, environmentalists bitterly oppose the pipeline due to greenhouse gas emissions from extracting and burning oil sands, forest damage from the massive projects in Alberta and fears of spills along the pipeline route. 

Expect lots and lots of partisian posturing.  As my friend and Texas colleague, Billy Moore has points out, the one problem with the transportation bill conference is that few members have experience ironing out the difference between the two chambers.  Congress used to conduct about 75 conference committees a year and Tuesday's highway conference is only the 6th conference committee in 17 months.  Except for the fact that Congress would like to produce one legislative accomplishment before the election, the prospects of this passing are slim.