Republicans Keep Focus on Keystone XL, Steer Clear for Now of Fighting Obama Rules

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Anthony Adragna and Dean Scott

Jan. 29 — While Senate Democrats have forced Republicans to vote on whether climate change is real and not a hoax in debate over the Keystone XL pipeline bill, Republicans have held their fire on targeting U.S. climate funding and carbon dioxide limits for power plants.

Conspicuously absent from the more than 40 amendment votes taken this month on the bill (S. 1) to expedite approval of the Keystone pipeline were Republican amendments aimed at derailing President Barack Obama's environmental agenda.

Left untouched by Republicans, at least for now, are Environmental Protection Agency rules to cut carbon dioxide from power plants, reduce ozone and expand Clean Water Act jurisdiction over U.S. waterways.

“We'll get our shots at [EPA regulations] at some point,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate leadership, told Bloomberg BNA. “I think our guys are refraining from some of that. We want to ultimately get the bill passed, and I think we'll have other chances to make our points and to hopefully get something done on the regulation side.”

Thune and other Republicans told Bloomberg BNA they made good on their pledge to have an open amendment process in the new Republican-led Senate and allowed senators to freely offer amendments to the Keystone bill on the floor.

But Republicans also wanted to remain focused on their central argument—that the pipeline would create U.S. jobs—and avoid straying into debates over Obama's environmental agenda. Republicans are still expected to target environmental rules in the months ahead.

The Senate on Jan. 29 ultimately passed the Keystone legislation that would bypass an Obama administration decision and essentially approve the $8 billion pipeline project by TransCanada Corp. to carry heavy oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. The White House said the president will veto the legislation.

Contrast to Action on Earlier Bills 

Republicans have previously filed numerous amendments to impede or block a number of Obama environmental priorities on unrelated legislation.

In April, for example, Republicans ultimately failed to get Senate consideration of several amendments to a bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits. Those amendments would have separately blocked the EPA's carbon emissions limits for power plants, placed additional hurdles on any legislative efforts to impose a carbon tax and required congressional approval of EPA rules that could cost the economy $50 million or more annually.

When Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was majority leader, he frequently cited Republican desires for non-germane energy and environmental amendment votes as his rationale for not allowing more amendment votes when Democrats controlled the chamber.

On the other hand, current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged a more open process, which Republicans said gives them little reason to push anti-EPA votes now.

‘Plenty of Time' for Other Votes 

“Under Leader McConnell’s view of how to run the Senate, there will be plenty of times to have other amendment votes,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, told Bloomberg BNA.

Another senior Republican, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), said Jan. 28 that Republicans had discussed their desire to keep the Keystone legislation focused on the pipeline and away from unrelated measures such as EPA riders.

Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he wouldn't want to attach any amendment to the Keystone measure that would give moderate Democrats reason to oppose it.

“It should be kept clean,” Inhofe said, adding that he would pursue a long-term highway bill. After that, Inhofe said, Republicans will begin teeing up legislation targeting the president's environmental agenda.

“We’re going after them,” he said.

Appropriations Called Better Venue 

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), sponsor of the Keystone legislation, said that while Republicans supported many of the regulatory rollback amendments, the appropriations process is their preferred venue.

The White House could have a harder time defending against anti-regulatory language inserted in an appropriations bill, particularly if the measure funds environmental programs the administration supports.

Several amendments related to the EPA were introduced during the Keystone debate, though all involved less high-profile issues. One would have exempted coal waste power generation from portions of two EPA air regulations, and another would have called for the agency to regulate pet coke as a hazardous waste. None of the amendments was accepted.

Democrats Acknowledge Republican Efforts 

Democrats, for their part, agreed Republicans haven't pushed many of the most controversial environmental amendments and surmised they wanted to keep the bill substantively unchanged.

“I think Republicans are trying to show an open amendment process, but they are not really interested in changing the substance of this bill,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 28.

If Republicans had allowed an “anti-environmental” amendment and that measure “got adopted, it may change the bill,” Cardin said. “That would be my guess—but it’s their strategy.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com and Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com