February 16, 2012

The Pipeline That Refuses to Die

Last month, President Obama denied TransCanada’s permit application for the Keystone XL pipeline because a congressionally mandated deadline did not allow enough time to evaluate the project once Nebraska completed its analysis for re-routing of the pipeline around the Sand Hills.

A January 26-29 poll from Hart Research Associates found that, after hearing arguments for and against the pipeline, 47% of voters in four Presidential battleground states polled agree with President Obama’s decision while 36% disagree with it.  Yet just this week, the U.S. Senate is considering whether to add language to an unrelated highway authorization bill to force the President to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

The pipeline rider has the backing of 44 Republicans and one Democrat in the Senate.  Passing it is a bad idea on several levels.  For one thing, riders like this one short-circuit the congressional process.  By inserting an unrelated substantive provision like this into an authorization or appropriation package, the provision doesn’t receive the scrutiny that it would if it were forced to stand on its own, and Senators who are against the pipeline might feel compelled to vote in favor of the package because it includes other benefits for their constituents.  (For this reason, many state constitutions forbid appropriations riders, but the federal constitution does not.) For more on this see my article Sacrificing Legislative Integrity at the Altar of Appropriations Riders:  A Constitutional Crisis.

For another thing, this rider would effectively strip the decisionmaking authority away from the President and the Department of State, the latter of which has been considering the issue, and has developed expertise on it, over the course of the past several years now.  Finally, and most compellingly, this rider, if passed, would undermine if not defeat state prerogatives over the location and regulation of the pipeline.

If a majority of Congress wants to pass legislation to authorize this or any other pipeline, so be it.  But congressional leaders ought to subject any such provision to the full legislative process so that it can be considered fully on its own merits.

Sandra Zellmer, CPR Member Scholar; Robert Daugherty Prof. of Law, University of Nebraska College of Law. Bio.

  • Read Comments (0)
  • + Add a Comment
Be the first to comment on this entry.

First Name:
Last Name:
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us (info@progressivereform.org) and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.