Keystone XL Bill Heads to House Vote But Is Largely Symbolic

The House might pass its Keystone XL bill, but not much will come from it.


House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member Rep. Tom Walz, D-Minn. gestures during the committee's markup of a Keystone XL pipeline bill that is expected to pass.

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The GOP-controlled House might easily pass a bill that would eliminate the requirement for presidential approval for the Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday, but that's about the only thing that will be easy about the process, experts say.

[READ: Former State Department Official Convinced Keystone XL Will Be Approved]

While the bill has bipartisan support, liberal Democrats are still expected to put plenty of obstacles in the way of a smooth passage, including requiring a floor vote on an amendment requiring any oil and refined product that goes through the Keystone XL pipeline to stay in the U.S., according to The Hill. Other proposed amendments include striking parts of the bill that restrict challenges to the project and requiring pipeline builder TransCanada to disclose its campaign contributions for the past five years before construction can proceed.

Critics of the project argue the pipeline would not further U.S. energy interests as its supporters claim, but fuel increased development of the Canadian oil sands and serve as a highway for exports, a claim pipeline backers say is greatly exaggerated. They argue the Keystone XL pipeline would bring a windfall of economic benefit to the United States while bolstering the nation's relationship with an important diplomatic and trade partner. According to the Canadian American Business Council, which cites a recent Canadian Energy Research Institute Study, oil sands investment and operations would add $521 billion to U.S. economic output over 25 years.

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on Keystone XL and Energy]

But while squabbles continue on Capitol Hill, some grass roots organizers in states affected by the pipeline are planning some ambitious projects to stall the pipeline's construction.

"We are tired of members of Congress and Gov. Heineman in our state siding with [pipeline builder] TransCanada and not siding with homeowners and citizens," says Jane Kleeb, spokeswoman for BOLD Nebraska, an anti-Keystone group which plans to build two clean energy sources directly in the path of the proposed pipeline route. "This is us taking matters into our own hands because our elected officials aren't representing us on clean energy."

The projects - a windmill and a barn equipped with solar panels - are expected to be completed by July and fall directly within the proposed Keystone Route, a strategic location the group hopes will make lawmakers and President Barack Obama think twice when it comes to approving the pipeline.

[ALSO: What's Next in the Keystone XL Pipeline Saga?]

"If, in a worst-case scenario, the president approves this pipeline, he's going to be tearing down clean energy," Kleeb says, a move that could have serious political consequences given the Obama administration's push for more alternative and clean energy sources.

While the expected passage of the House bill is largely symbolic - experts say it has virtually no chance of surviving a Senate vote and the White House released a statement Tuesday saying the President would veto the legislation - it has become a rallying point for both sides when it comes to hashing and rehashing the pros and cons of the project.

Still, with the bill unlikely to pass the Senate or receive Obama's stamp of approval, it remains up to the State Department to make its final environmental impact statement and determine whether the pipeline is in the nation's public interest, a decision that could come as early as this fall.

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