Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash was the only Republican in either the House or Senate to vote against approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Why’d he do it? Amash says that while he supports the pipeline, the bill contained “cronyist” elements.
“The latest #KXL bill combines the cronyism of previous bills—specially exempting one private company from the laws and regulations that apply to all other companies—with new, unrelated sections empowering the EPA and the federal government with respect to local energy efficiency,” Amash wrote on his Facebook wall. “I voted no.”
But in voting against the bill, the libertarian-leaning Republican has found himself at odds with his own party. Every other Republican in Congress voted to approve the pipeline, despite amendments that might otherwise make the bill undesirable.
So why did Amash buck Republicans? House lawmakers were voting on a Keystone XL bill that passed in the Senate in late January. That Senate bill included a House energy efficiency bill from last year that increased “federal involvement in local affairs and the private sector in several inappropriate ways,” Amash wrote on his Facebook wall in 2014.
H.R. 2126, the bill Amash is referring to, combined four separate energy efficiency bills. The House bill included a provision to increase energy efficiency standards for federal buildings, which Amash did not oppose. But the bill also included provisions to increase federal involvement in state and local energy efficiency policies.
The bill was introduced by GOP Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia and cosponsored by Vermont Democratic Rep. Peter Welch. It was passed by the House last March.
“It requires the General Services Administration to develop model leasing provisions to encourage energy efficiency in privately owned buildings, and it establishes a new federal program to provide federal recognition to private commercial building owners and occupants that achieve certain levels of energy efficiency,” Amash wrote. “The bill also requires the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to study state and local building efficiency policies and develop a set of best practices.”
“Implementation of the bill’s new model leasing provisions and best practices for state and local governments and the private sector is touted as being voluntary, but as we’ve seen with so many other federal programs, it’s only a matter of time before they become conditions on federal grants, contracts, or leases—a roundabout way of imposing the federal government’s will where it doesn’t belong,” Amash wrote.
Despite Amash’s objections, Republicans made approving Keystone their first priority in the new Congress. Pipeline-supporters say the pipeline will increase energy independence and create jobs without impacting the environment.
“It directly creates jobs,” Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis said on the House floor before the vote. “It’s a shot in the arm for our energy economy. It will make America more energy secure. Why the president would threaten to veto this bill is beyond rational explanation. It’s economic benefits could not be more evident.”
The Keystone bill now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk, where he’s expected to issue a veto.
Environmentalists say the pipeline will cause oil spills and exacerbate global warming. Democratic lawmakers argued the pipeline would transport oil through the U.S. only to be exported abroad, and not benefit the economy.
“There should be no more doubt that President Obama must reject the proposed pipeline once and for all,” Danielle Droitsch of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “If built, it would transport Canadian tar sands oil – the dirtiest fuel on the planet – through America’s heartland, only to be refined and then shipped abroad.”
But much of that oil is expected to be refined in the U.S., since it’s being transported to the Gulf Coast– the region with the highest refinery concentration in the country.
Keystone is only the beginning. Republicans have put forward an energy agenda that pushes streamlined permitting for energy projects like natural-gas export terminals and drilling on federal lands.
“Our energy realities have changed dramatically– we’ve gone from bust to boom practically overnight,” GOP Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan Ed Whitfield of Kentucky said in a statement. “Today’s energy policies are lagging far behind, and are better suited for the gas lines in the 1970s than this new era of abundance.”