This Week in the Congress

by Myron Ebell on December 4, 2011

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Congressional Republicans Move on Keystone Pipeline

President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that he would delay making a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election is provoking strong opposition in the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and 36 Republican co-sponsors introduced a bill on Wednesday, 30th November, that would require the President to approve the project within sixty days unless he decides that it would not be in the national interest.

Representative Lee Terry (R-Neb.) introduced a bill on Friday, 2nd December, that would transfer the decision from the State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and give FERC a thirty-day deadline to issue the permit after final agreement has been reached between the State of Nebraska and Trans Canada Corporation, the company that would build the pipeline, on a new route that goes around Nebraska’s Sand Hills.

Terry introduced his bill at a press conference just before the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on it.  He said that House Speaker John Boehner was considering including the bill in a larger package supported by President Obama and Senate Democrats that would extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.  Including the Keystone bill in the larger bill would make it much harder for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to block in the Senate and for President Obama to veto.

Rep. Terry has been a strong backer of the 1,700 mile pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to U. S. refineries in the Gulf, even while most of his state’s political establishment has objected to the route.  That dispute has now apparently been resolved.  The pipeline would carry over 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the oil sands in northeast Alberta and from the Bakken field in North Dakota.  Bakken production is going up rapidly, and much of the oil is currently being transported by rail to refineries in the lower Midwest.

Canada’s political and business establishment has been stunned by President Obama’s postponing a decision on the pipeline until after the presidential election.  Faced with either a further two-year delay in building the Keystone XL pipeline or an outright rejection of the permit by a re-elected President Obama, Enbridge, the other major Canadian pipeline company, has proposed building an alternative pipeline to a port in British Columbia, from which the oil could be shipped to refineries in China.  Support is now building in Canada to move forward with Enbridge’s pipeline.

For a sample, here is an op-ed by Frank McKenna, former premier of New Brunswick and former Canadian ambassador to the United States and now deputy chairman of one of Canada’s biggest banks.  For my own view of the Keystone controversy and also that of Dan Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research, here is a twenty-minute video of a briefing that the Heritage Foundation held on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

House Votes To Rein in Runaway Regulations

The House of Representatives this week passed two generic regulatory reform bills.  On Thursday, 1st December, the House voted 263 to 159 to pass the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act, H. R. 527, that would give teeth to a law enacted in 1980 that requires federal agencies to analyze the possible economic effects of new regulations on small businesses.

On Friday, 2nd December, the House passed a far-reaching reform of the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946 by a vote of 253 to 167.  Nineteen Democrats voted for the bill, and no Republicans voted against it.  The Regulatory Accountability Act, H. R. 3010, if enacted, would make several major changes in the way regulations are developed and promulgated.  For example, independent agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, would become subject to the same procedural requirements as cabinet departments.  Another change would require agencies to hold formal quasi-judicial hearings with cross-examination of witnesses for really big proposed regulations (where the economic impact is estimated to be at least $1 billion per year).

The bill makes two other changes in the APA that potentially carry more bite.  First, information and data used in the rulemaking process would become subject to judicial review.  This fixes a problem with the Federal Information Quality Act (IQA), enacted in 2001.  It was assumed that the IQA could be used to take the phony science regularly used by EPA to court, but a federal judge ruled otherwise.  Another provision will allow regulated parties to challenge agency assessments of the costs and benefits of proposed rules in federal court.

Next week, the House is expected to debate and pass the REINS (which stands for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act.  H. R. 10 would require Congress to vote to approve or disapprove all major proposed regulations.

Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity (a member of the Cooler Heads Coalition) argues strongly in favor of the REINS Act in a recent op-ed.  Environmental pressure groups are dubbing these bills the “final corporate takeover of Congress.”   A remarkable Washington Post article essentially regurgitates leftist propaganda against these regulatory reforms and calls it an “in depth” news analysis.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to vote on any of these three bills.  The White House has threatened to veto all of them.  This is how Washington works.

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