This vote was on an amendment that would have put off approval of the controversial Keystone oil pipeline until a report on its safety is completed.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) offered the amendment to a Republican bill that would open up vast new expanses of federally owned land to energy development. The bill would also override President Obama’s denial of a permit to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would connect the oil-rich “tar sands” of Alberta, Canada, to markets in the United States.
The pipeline was challenged by environmental groups worried about potential oil spills and the pipeline’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions. The international project, which required approval from the Obama Administration, became a hot political topic in 2011, leading President Obama to postpone a decision until 2013. However, Republicans successfully passed legislation in late 2011 requiring a quick decision on the project, and the White House responded by rejecting the application on the grounds that there would not be time for a full assessment.
Rep. Eshoo argued that Republicans’ attempt to override this decision should wait until a U.S. Department of Transportation report on the pipeline’s safety was finished. Oil from the Canadian fields “has the consistency of peanut butter and is similar to sending heavy grit sandpaper down the steel pipe,” she said, and the report would allow everyone involved to evaluate whether the pipeline had sufficient safeguards against a potential spill.
“This is not a subject to be taken lightly. We've seen in my neck of the woods, in the northern part of the county where I live, in San Bruno, California, an explosion, natural-gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people. It injured dozens, and it destroyed 38 homes,” Rep. Eshoo said. “I think it's dangerous … to move forward with a tar sands pipeline before we have the proper safety knowledge and procedures in place.”
Republicans argued that the amendment was unnecessary because the oil carried in the Keystone pipeline would not be new to American pipelines. In the meantime, Congress could act in the future if the Department of Transportation report revealed problems.
“If the study comes back and comes up with significant, or any, safety issues, I can assure you that Congress is ready to act to address those. But there's no indication that there will be a problem,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) said. “So for that reason, we feel quite confident that this pipeline should be built. We want the study to go forward, but we want the permit to be issued to build it now.”
Rep. Eshoo’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 173-249. Voting “yea” were 171 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 2 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 231 Republicans and 18 Democrats. As a result, the bill moved forward with its approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline without first requiring a report on its safety.