WASHINGTON - Three of Minnesota's five Democratic members of the U.S. House split with their party to vote for a Republican bill to jump-start the approval process for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.
The legislation circumvents a required State Department approval process that has led to an extensive review of the project.
Environmentalists seized on the project, which transports crude oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries for export, calling it a highly polluting source of carbon dioxide emissions from a delicate and damaged ecosystem. Republicans counter that environmental regulations have stymied job growth and reduce access to nearby sources of energy from close allies.
The DFL defections were not a surprise. Reps. Rick Nolan, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz have all voted for GOP bills supporting the project in the past and represent either Republican-leaning or swing districts where the vote could become a political litmus test.
"These heavy crudes must be transported in the safest way possible," said Nolan. "It is important to note that pipelines – while not immune from accidents – have been shown to be a safer energy transportation method than truck and rail, producing a lower carbon footprint and preventing our rail and highway systems – which are already extremely congested – from further obstruction.”
Democrats who opposed the measure cited not just the potential environmental impact but also studies that suggested the project would create approximately 35 permanent jobs in the United States and primarily benefit Canadian producers.
"Trading dubious economic benefits for potentially disastrous environmental consequences is simply not a trade I am willing to make," said DFL Rep. Betty McCollum, in a statement explaining her no vote.
The bill passed the House 266-153 with 28 Democrats joining a united GOP to back the bill. A Senate vote is expected early next week and both of Minnesota's Democratic senators are on the record as opposing any attempts to go around the State Department. It appears Republicans lack the votes in both the House and Senate to overcome an expected veto from President Obama.