A key congressional challenger to the White House’s course on energy policy is skeptical of the administration’s seemingly warmer response to construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
Or, at least, a warmer response to part of the original Keystone XL project.
Claiming as they have since last month that Republicans demanding a quick permitting decision were really the ones who killed Keystone XL, the White House today said it “welcomes” news that TransCanada plans to move forward on the southern leg of the pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf and promised to “take every step possible” to expedite the permit process.
“Actions speak louder than words, so those are very nice words if they mean it,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) told PJM after the announcement.
And if they mean it, he stressed, they’d let the rest of the pipeline — a project killed after three years of review because President Obama said the required environmental studies could not be completed by Congress’ deadline — be built all the way across the Canadian border, the segment that stalled in the State Department permit process.
The White House noted today that TransCanada expressed its intention to reapply for the cross-border segment permit.
“As we made clear, the President’s decision in January in no way prejudged future applications,” said the statement from the press secretary’s office. “We will ensure any project receives the important assessment it deserves, and will base a decision to provide a permit on the completion of that review.”
“If the administration really means it, they can move forward with this immediately,” Vitter said.
He accused the administration of “trying to have it both ways,” noting that the White House is “so beholden to their far-left environmental base” that it has ignored public sentiment on pipeline approval and blocked the project while now striking a warm tone toward development.
“At the end of the day I think the American people aren’t going to be fooled,” Vitter said.
His Senate colleagues echoed this sentiment. “The American people can’t afford the White House’s smoke and mirrors energy strategy,” Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement. “Until President Obama uses his authority to allow TransCanada to bring Canadian oil to the United States, his leadership will remain weak.”
Earlier this month, Vitter, along with Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), introduced the Strategic Petroleum Supplies Act, which bars the administration from tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until Keystone XL permitting is approved.
Vitter said he’s received no direct response from the White House on his bill. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from colleagues and constituents,” he added.
“It’s pretty clear Obama’s merely going to try to manipulate price” if he taps into the reserve, “even though there’s no strategic reason for a release, which is what the reserve was intended for,” Vitter said.
Skyrocketing gas prices heading into campaign season could spell trouble for the president if pain at the pump increases.
“I don’t have a crystal ball but certainly it’s normal for [gas prices] to go up and bump up in the summer,” Vitter said of the potential trajectory of prices in the coming months. “I certainly think the administration realizes that and is pretty scared of that as a political issue.”
The senator called a White House spokesman’s assertion Friday that the extension of the payroll tax cut put money back into Americans’ pockets to help cushion the blow from rising gas prices “silly.”
“Extending that current cut is not giving Americans any more than they have now in their pockets,” he said.
Vitter said America has suffered from bad energy policy for three years, with the pace of permitting since the 2010 BP oil spill down 30 to 40 percent and the outer continental shelf lease plan at half of the previous plan.
As the Gulf state most impacted by the spill, Vitter said his constituents want to get back to production.
“Obviously Louisiana was the most impacted by the environmental damage, so we don’t take that lightly,” he said. “People know we need to get back to a healthy level of energy production … it’s a big hit on our economy.”
The Keystone debacle, the senator said, is just another misstep by this administration that has made energy policy and America’s energy security worse.
“They could be expanding domestic production,” Vitter noted. “We’re the only country in world that takes 95 percent of our energy resources and puts them off limits.”
Also influenced by the environmental lobby, he said, the Obama administration is trying to put the brakes on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract oil and natural gas. “The EPA is threatening to shut that process down while there’s no scientific basis for it,” he said.
“Under their leadership, we’re moving in the wrong direction in terms of domestic energy production,” Vitter said.