Republicans ratcheted up the pressure on U.S. president Barack Obama on Wednesday by introducing a bill that would force him to OK the Keystone XL oil pipeline project within 60 days.
Led by Mitch McConnell, a phalanx of Republican senators announced the North America Energy Security Act at a press conference on Wednesday.
If passed, the act would force the U.S president to approve the $7 billion pipeline that will bring Alberta crude oil to refineries on the U.S. gulf coast. Construction would then begin within 60 days. Canadian pipeline company TransCanada Corp. has been trying to bring the project to fruition for more than three years.
"With all the talk about jobs, we know there's one major shovel ready project ready to go and that's Keystone," McConnell said. "If the administration would get out of the way, this project would create jobs immediately — lots of jobs."
As well, a subcommittee of the Republican-dominated House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing for Friday to discuss how to expedite approval of the pipeline.
America currently imports about two million barrels a day from Canada. Keystone XL, if approved, would see that figure increase by another 700,000 barrels. That gain alone would be more than the U.S. currently imports from Venezuela, lawmakers noted on Wedneday.
The controversial pipeline has been plagued by regulatory delays. Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department delayed issuing their opinion on the project until environmental assessments can be made for a new route that would take the pipeline away from Nebraska's Sandhills region and the Ogalalla aquifer that supplies water to eight states.
'This project would create jobs immediately — lots of jobs'—Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell
That decision likely means final approval of the White House can't be made until 12-18 months from now, after the next Congressional and presidential elections in 2012. Environmentalists have rallied around stopping the pipeline and they appeared to score a victory in that decision.
But Republicans pushed hard to back the project on Wednesday, insisting the act would not simply rubber stamp a project, but ensure that all existing environmental standards will be met while creating jobs.
"There is no time for delay," Senators Dick Lugar of Indiana said. Environmental concerns are misguided, Lugar said, as the project would create less carbon emissions than other alternatives by eliminating the need for the costly transport of oil via other means.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski noted that killing the pipeline won't lead to a reduction in fossil fuel use the way opponents think it will. Rather, it will simply make the country have to pay more to bring in oil from farther away regions with less friendly regimes. "We know it's going to go to China anyway," she said.
The lawmakers pitched the urgency of their plan on Wednesday, but it was largely a political exercise. Democrats, led by Nevada Senator Harry Reid control the Senate and they are unlikely to go against the wishes of a Democratic president in the lead-up to an election.