The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly this week for a bill, H. R. 4348, to extend the highway bill for another ninety days after the current extension expires at the end of June. The final vote was 293 to 127, with 69 Democrats voting for passage. The extension includes three energy and environmental riders, including Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-Neb.) provision to require permitting the Keystone XL pipeline. Also included are Rep. David McKinley’s (R-WV) amendment to prevent EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste and Rep. Reid Ribble’s (R-Wisc.) amendment that would expedite environmental reviews of highway construction projects.
The House bill will now be conferenced with the highway bill passed earlier by the Senate. White House press secretary Jay Carney made some extraordinary statements about the Keystone provision on Friday. According to the Hill, Carney said that permitting the 1700-mile pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the Gulf coast would be “preemptively sacrificing American sovereignty” and that it would be “a foreign pipeline built by a foreign company emanating from foreign territory to cross U. S. borders.”
Carney also said that Rep. Terry’s amendment had been added to the highway bill in a “highly politicized, highly partisan way.” That is odd, considering that increasing numbers of Democrats in the House support overriding President Obama’s opposition to permitting the pipeline. One supporter is Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic Whip. The Senate narrowly defeated an amendment to permit the pipeline last month on a 56 to 42 vote (with 60 required for passage). Eleven Democrats voted for the amendment. That’s about as bi-partisan as the Senate gets these days.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reacted to the House vote by saying that the Senate had clearly rejected permitting the Keystone pipeline and would not agree to the House language in conference committee. But the New York Times noticed in a news article that Democratic support for President Obama’s obstructionism was clearly crumbling in the face of public support for the pipeline and the November elections.