WASHINGTON - Congressional Republicans are refusing to back down in their attempts to win speedy approval of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, vowing to link approval of the controversial project to a new jobs bill being introduced next week.
"All options are on the table," John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
"Now that the president has decided for political reasons that we're not going to move ahead just yet, not until after the election … we're going to have to find another way to lean on the Senate, to take this issue up, because the Keystone pipeline will create over 100,000 indirect jobs."
If the Obama administration has not given the green light to the US$7.6 billion pipeline by the time the House examines the so-called American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, Republicans will add the pipeline approval provision to the bill, he said.
It will be the second time Republicans have attempted to force the hand of President Barack Obama on Keystone XL as they insist the project represents a jobs boon and will help end U.S. reliance on oil from often hostile OPEC regimes.
They successfully inserted a pipeline provision into a temporary payroll tax-cut legislation in late December that imposed a Feb. 21 deadline on the White House for approving the project.
Congressional Democrats largely signed off on the Keystone provision in December because they wanted the tax-cut legislation passed as quickly as possible. They're equally keen for a jobs act to pass Congress soon.
But two weeks ago, the Obama administration rejected Keystone XL's permit application, saying the imposed deadline did not give U.S. State Department officials enough time to conduct an adequate environmental review of a new pipeline route that would avoid an environmentally sensitive aquifer in Nebraska.
The president assured Prime Minister Stephen Harper that TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) was free to submit an amended plan.
TransCanada has already agreed to reroute the pipeline and intends to re-submit its application to the State Department.
The State Department is tasked with approving the pipeline because it crosses an international border. Keystone XL would carry millions of barrels of Alberta oilsands bitumen a week from the northern reaches of the province through six U.S. states to Gulf Coast refineries.
Last fall, the Obama administration, after a summer of high-profile protests against the pipeline by U.S. environmental groups, deferred a final decision on Keystone XL until after the presidential election.
Obama raised concerns about the health and safety of Americans living along the proposed Keystone XL route. Republicans, meantime, howled in protest as they accused the president of punting the decision until after November's election to curry favour with his liberal base.
"This is the epitome of a shovel-ready job project that the president ought to be approving," Boehner said Sunday. "And if he won't, then let's let the Congress approve it."
Some Republicans also want the Keystone pipeline to be part of a final deal to extend the payroll tax-cut and unemployment benefits despite Democratic opposition. Boehner's office said the matter had yet to be decided.
A group of 43 Republicans, and a solitary Democrat, also plan to introduce legislation soon that would assert Congress's right to rubber-stamp the pipeline. Their bill asserts that legislators can approve Keystone XL under the so-called commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that Congress has the right "to regulate commerce with foreign nations."
That bill, however, has faint hopes of making it past the Democratic-controlled Senate.