Mark Pryor, Others Join Legislation for Keystone Pipeline Approval

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., on Thursday joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers supporting legislation he says would give Congress the authority to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

"The route has been approved and the studies have been completed," Pryor said in a news release. "The President has been sitting on this valuable opportunity for far too long. Our bill gives Congress the authority it needs to move forward with this vital project and create jobs here at home."

According to Pryor, the bill would approve the partially completed, 1,700-mile oil pipeline planned to run from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Legislators claim the authority under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Pryor said the non-partisan Congressional Research Service confirmed Congress' constitutional authority last year to approve the project.

Leading the bill are Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., two Senators who from states through which the pipeline runs.

The pipeline does not run through Arkansas. But pipe for the project was manufactured by Welspun Pipes' plant in the Port of Little Rock.

State Department approval is needed because the $7 billion pipeline crosses a U.S. border. The Obama administration has delayed approval of the project citing environmental concerns. The delay has become a political point of contention between President Obama and Republicans, as well as many Democrats, who see the project as a job creator.

Inflated Numbers

According to Republicans who attended a closed-door meeting with Obama on Wednesday, Obama said jobs numbers and other benefits touted by supporters of pipeline are probably exaggerated. But Obama did not rule out a decision to approve the project, participants said.

Obama told Republicans at the Capitol that he's still weighing a decision on the pipeline.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said Obama appeared "conflicted" on the pipeline, saying that many of the promised jobs would be temporary and that much of the oil produced likely would be exported.

But Terry said Obama also indicated that dire environmental consequences predicted by pipeline opponents were exaggerated.

"He said there were no permanent jobs, and that the oil will be put on ships and exported and that the only ones who are going to get wealthy are the Canadians," Terry said.

A White House spokesman said Wednesday no decision on the pipeline has been made.

Terry, who supports the long-delayed pipeline, said he wished Obama's comments were less negative, but said he was still hopeful the project would be approved, a view echoed by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., another pipeline supporter.

Scalise, who asked Obama about Keystone at the GOP meeting, said the president "made light" of jobs numbers predicted by supporters, including some who have predicted that the project could create as many as 100,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Obama said the pipeline "is not going to create as many jobs as you (Republicans) hope," Scalise said.

Calgary-based TransCanada, which is proposing the pipeline, initially said it could create at least 20,000 jobs, including 13,000 construction jobs and 7,000 jobs among suppliers and manufacturers. The company later clarified that the figures were for one person per year, based on a two-year construction timetable. The State Department has estimated the project would create about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs.

A draft environmental report released by the State Department this month said there would be no significant environmental impact to most resources along the proposed pipeline route, which goes through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. The report also said other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries are worse for climate change.

On at least one aspect of the pipeline, Obama is "flat-out-wrong," Terry said. While some oil is likely to be exported, the total is far less than a majority, Terry said. "That was disturbing to me," he said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)