The House and Senate conference committee on re-authorizing the highway bill met for the first time on Tuesday, 8th May. One of the most contentious issues is House language that would require permitting of the 1700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to Gulf refineries. Initial reactions were that the Keystone provision has little chance of being included in the final conference report. However, there are signs that the ground is shifting.
Representative John Mica (R-Fla.), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said last Thursday that he thought the Keystone provision was making great progress toward being included in the final bill. Mica noted that eleven Democratic Senators and 69 Democratic House members (out of 190) have recently voted for permitting the pipeline.
Perhaps more importantly, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told Fox Business News last week that he supports building the Keystone XL Pipeline. Buffett is a close supporter of President Barack Obama. It has been speculated that Buffett was one of those advising Obama to deny the Keystone permit last fall out of self interest. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which because of the lack of pipeline capacity has become a major shipper of crude oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana to refineries. The Keystone XL would transport oil from the Bakken Formation as well as from Alberta’s oil sands.
Buffett may well have been offering his own opinion without consulting the White House first. On the other hand, his comments may be a sign that the White House is maneuvering to save face and let the Keystone permit go through. President Obama’s political advisers clearly understand that the President is on the wrong side of public opinion on Keystone. Letting the Congress overrule the President this summer would largely take away a campaign issue in the fall.