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House GOP to Add Pipeline "Poison Pill" to Transportation Bill

Rob Perks

Posted January 31, 2012 in Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil

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The Republican leadership has the temerity to call this horrible package a jobs bill, but it’s actually a measure that will make it impossible to pass a transportation bill – the one true jobs bill Congress could pass this year. Instead of going the bipartisan route taken by the Senate, House Republican leaders have larded up the bill with environmental protection rollbacks, extreme measures that mandate oil drilling just about everywhere, and a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The American people need a transportation bill; this bill will prevent them from getting one.  -- Frances Beinecke, NRDC President

I've heard of "my way or the highway" but this is ridiculous. In an unprecedented move, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is hell-bent on crashing the transportation bill by loading it up with controversial issues that will guarantee more political gridlock. This afternoon Boehner & Co. will unveil their so-called "American Infrastructure and Jobs Act," which is really just a backdoor way to push Big Oil's profits even higher.

Transportation legislation has long been a bi-partisan policy area, as evidenced by two polar opposite politicians co-sponsoring the Senate transportation bill: liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, and conservative Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the committee. The fact that these two members representing opposite ends of the political spectrum can work together these days on legislation of national importance proves that policy can transcend partisan politics.

Not so in the House of Representatives apparently. Speaker Boehner is pushing legislation -- to be added to the House transportation bill that Congress will take up next -- which proposes to cover a portion of infrastructure funding via royalty revenues from new drilling in protected areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. This "drill and drive" scheme is bad for the environment and makes absolutely no economic sense. In fact, conservative critics of this "bait-and-switch" funding proposal include the Competitive Enterprise Insitute, the Reason Foundation and the Heritage Foundation. As Heritage's CEO Michael Needham told Politico: “As more and more people get educated about this, there are members who are starting to raise eyebrows. That's one of the reasons this is moving so quickly.”

Certainly Sen. Inhofe's eyebrows are raised. He has repeatedly criticized Boehner's proposal for not adding up and for needlessly politicizing the process -- sharply reducing the prospects of passing a new federal surface transportation bill this year. The deadline for doing so is March 31, when the current bill expires. That would force a ninth temporary extenstion over the past three years.

[UPDATE: Today Sen. Inhofe opted to toe the party line by publicly backing away from his previous steadfast criticism of the GOP proposal to tie transportation funding to new drilling. “There is no denying that increased energy production could fund a portion of the bill,” he stated on his website. With a proposed funding level for the transportation bill set at $260 billion for the next five years, even the most generous estimates of the funding that might be derived at some future date from new drilling falls well short of infrastructure needs. In fact, an analysis of the drilling proposals by The Wilderness Society puts potential revenues at $262.5 million over five years -- or less than 1% of transportation funding needs outlined in the House bill. The fact remains that Sen. Inhofe prefers his own bi-partisan transportation bill, which is not hampered by the contentious elements of the House bill. NRDC also prefers the Senate bill as the only viable way toward enacting transportation legislation in Congress this year.]

Making matters worse, Speaker Boehner is also threatening to add another poison pill to the bill. On the weekend talk shows, he said Republican lawmakers will try to force the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline by attaching it to the transportation bill. President Obama recently denied TransCanada's application for the tar sands pipeline. "If (Keystone) is not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it will be part of it," Boehner said on ABC's "This Week" news program.

NRDC has been leading the charge to stop the Keystone pipeline, which would cut through America's heartland to deliver heavy, highly acidic crude oil from Canada all the way to Texas for easy export to other countries. For all the reasons why Keystone is a dirty deal for us, go here.

Given the intense PR battle being wage over the pipeline, Speaker Boehner knows that using the House transportation bill as the policy vehicle to enact the GOP's fossil fuel-friendly agenda will provoke a backlash in the Senate. Best case scenario is two transportation bills -- one passed in the Senate, one in the House -- that cannot be reconciled in a conference committee. Such a stalemate will stymie passage of a new long-term transportation bill to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements, leaving our nation's roads, bridges, rails, runways and ports in disrepair and thousands of Americans out of work. 

When will politicians realize that putting people back to work fixing America's crumbling infrastructure is job one -- not boosting Big Oil's profits?

Unfortunately, by tying transportation programs to controversial and dangerous efforts to require oil drilling in areas that have long been protected, and constructing a dirty oil pipeline, the House Republicans leadership is hijacking a must-pass bill in order to advance an extreme agenda. This is bad policy and bad politics --designed to fail. The result will be that no transportation bill will pass Congress this year, for which you can be sure that Republicans will try to pass the blame. 

The American people need a transportation bill, not a bill to nowhere.

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Comments

Eddie priceFeb 2 2012 10:02 AM

Not surprisingly it seems that you are only presenting one side of the argument. You speak repeatedly of driving up profits for big oil. There is nothing that drives up prices for everything in this country more quickly than real or even perceived problems with delivery of crude oil. This affects not just prices at the pump but everything manufactured with derivatives of crude and everything which is transported including food. And the transportation jobs? As with all government jobs those jobs are created on the backs of all Americans who are taxpaying citizens. One more thing worth mentioning? When you pull up to a gas pump you should be aware that federal and state governments are making more profit off each gallon of gas than anyone including big oil. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Rob PerksFeb 2 2012 10:10 AM

Thanks for your comment. I do think it's missing the mark to say that I'm presenting just one side. As I mention, it's not just environmentalists opposing this flawed scheme, but fiscal conservatives like Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) and right-wing groups that don't agree with us on anything else -- like the Heritage Foundation, the Reason Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. It is hard to conclude anything other than the fact that GOP leaders are trying to use the transportation bill to achieve their over-arching "pet" petro-policies. Politically, they know this will prevent a federal trasnportation bill from passing. So, in this case, it's their way or NO highways.

Eddie PriceFeb 3 2012 01:07 AM

Would you mind providing links to pages that support the position that The Heritage Foundation is in agreement with you on this issue? Thanks

Rob PerksFeb 3 2012 10:14 AM

Eddie,

If you Google "transportation bill" and any of those groups you'll find lots on their opposition to the bill. For example, the National Journal reports today about the conservative ire -- quoting Heritage Foundation. That publication's online story requires a subscription so the link won't work for you, but I've pasted it below:

Conservatives Target House Transport Bill
By Shane Goldmacher
Thursday, February 2, 2012 | 9:00 p.m.

House Republican leaders are confronting numerous speed bumps this week as they roll ahead on a massive, $260 billion transportation package to fund highways, mass transit, and other programs for the next five years.
Conservative groups mobilized against the measure, with the Club for Growth announcing it would be included in its influential voting scorecard. House Democrats lined up in near-universal opposition. And Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former GOP lawmaker himself, denounced the measure as the “most partisan” and “worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.”
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, pushed the measure through his committee anyway on Thursday, only two days after the 800-plus-page bill had been introduced. He hailed it as a necessary measure to bring stability to the transportation sector, which has endured stopgap legislation since the last major transportation bill, approved by Congress in 2005, expired.
A competing transportation package was approved unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last fall, and the two bills appear to be on a collision course.
Led by Mica, Republicans on Thursday brushed aside a thicket of Democratic amendments, many of which focused on broadening spending beyond highways. “What is this bill—a comprehensive transportation bill or a highway bill?” Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., asked at one point.
Absent Democratic support, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tried to rally his GOP conference in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, arguing that the transportation legislation did not amount to a backdoor stimulus package. “We are not making the claim that spending taxpayer money on transportation projects creates jobs,” he said, according to his prepared remarks. “We don’t make that claim and we won’t make that claim.”
Transportation advocates do; they argue that each $1 billion invested nets as many as 30,000 jobs.
Boehner has never before voted for a major transportation package, but, as speaker, he has thrown his considerable weight behind the bill crafted by Mica’s panel. “Whether we like it or not, the reality is that dealing with our nation’s crumbling infrastructure is part of the responsibility of governing,” Boehner told his troops.
But the rank-and-file are being pulled away from leadership by powerful outside groups. Michael Needham, chief executive of Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group, called the measure “irresponsible” and said opponents had “gotten a lot of traction” within the GOP conference.
“Simply put, this is a massive 846-page bill that doesn’t cut any spending at all,” the Club for Growth said. “Supporters of the bill will claim that there are plenty of positive reforms in the bill, like no earmarks … but it’s still a remarkably bloated and inefficient piece of legislation.”
To corral GOP support, the legislation contains numerous perks for conservatives: no new taxes, no earmarks, a trio of drilling venues including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and slashing federal spending on bicycle and pedestrian pathways. Boehner has told his conference that if the payroll-tax holiday package being negotiated this month doesn’t include provisions related to the Keystone oil pipeline, he’ll tack that onto the bill as well.
In an interview with Politico on Thursday, LaHood, while blasting the House GOP proposal, praised the Senate package for its bipartisanship. “They get it,” LaHood said.
The drilling provision in Alaska, in particular, is a nonstarter for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Her panel has crafted a bipartisan two-year, $109 billion transportation package, which is still short roughly $12 billion in funding offsets and awaiting action in the Senate Finance Committee.
Boxer and her committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who are often at loggerheads, welcomed the House action—even if they disagreed on the particulars. “The only way to get the bill to the president’s desk is through our bipartisan approach,” Boxer said in a statement. “Sen. Inhofe and I remain committed to working together to pass this much-needed job-creating legislation.”
Lawmakers must reach an accord before the end of March, when the current stopgap funding for federal highways expires.

Rob PerksFeb 3 2012 10:21 AM

Apologies, Eddie, that article is the one quotintg Club for Growth. Here is a Politico story (also subscriber required) quoting Heritage Foundation. I think Heritage was again quoted yesterday but there's been so much coverage I couldn't locate the clip -- expect more to come:

POLITICO: Conservatives not down with GOP's drilling-transportation link

By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider

1/31/12 5:31 AM EST

A long-term “jobs bill” funded by oil drilling: For a conservative, what’s not to love?

Plenty, it turns out. Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling has been a conservative dream for years — but using it to pay for transportation wasn’t part of the plan.

Conservative policy watchers aren’t thrilled by the fact House Republicans are moving swiftly on a sweeping transportation funding bill that will include billions of dollars in funding derived from expanded energy production.

The drilling provisions are intended to lure Republican support for a bill that doesn’t cut spending, a stated goal of many rank-and-file conservatives.

“One of the problems you have in Washington, is you take really bad legislation, which the highway bill is, and you put a sweetener in it,” said Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham. “That’s what’s going on here.”

Erich Zimmermann, senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, is also wary of the combination.

“The primary issue we have is the speculative nature of the future revenues we could expect. The fact is the [Highway] Trust Fund is going broke now and the House bill would spend money now,” Zimmermann said. “Simply because a lease is offered doesn’t mean it will be purchased, and just because it’s purchased doesn’t mean that drilling will occur right away. From our point of view this is not a responsible budget approach.”

Combining drilling and transportation has resulted in some strange bedfellows. Zimmermann’s remarks came on a conference call that also included the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Reason Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, all of which oppose funding transportation with drilling.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the former chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and well-known supporter of domestic energy production, says the House shouldn't be using drilling to pay for highways. "You can't very well use revenues you don't have," he said last week.

Number-crunchers back Inhofe’s claim.

In November, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking Democrat Nick Rahall of West Virginia distributed a 2008 Congressional Budget Office report, which showed that Outer Continental Shelf drilling receipts would have totaled about $2 billion over a nine-year period, far short of the expected funding gap for the highway bill.

A letter from Senate Finance Committee Republicans in November suggested ways to help the Senate fill its own funding gap of nearly $13 billion. But even those rosier CBO estimates cited by the Republicans projected only about $5.2 billion from more drilling in Alaska and OCS over 10 years.

And there have been rumblings among conservatives that by using energy production for funding, the gas tax will be unhitched from infrastructure funding and later require more aid from the general fund; Taxpayers have bailed out the Highway Trust Fund three times to the tune of $35 billion over the past few years.

Marc Scribner, a transportation policy analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said it would be disastrous to end the “user pays” concept that has dominated transportation financing since the conception of the interstate system in the 1950s.

The current mix of funds — dominated by the gasoline tax — is superior for four reasons, Scribner said: It’s fair, it’s proportional to road use, it provides predictable funding levels and it offers an important positive signal to investors.

Though Heritage supports an eventual move to a devolution model, giving states more transportation power, Needham said, for now “highway spending is paid for out of the trust fund, and money should go into that based on the gas tax.” That was the way Congress worked until recently, Needham said, until “they totally blew that up in 2005 with the last highway bill, which was one of the reasons that people got sick of the Republican Congress.”

Needham also suggested House leaders are rushing the bill: “As more and more people get educated about this, there are members who are starting to raise eyebrows. That's one of the reasons this is moving so quickly.”

Eddie PriceFeb 4 2012 01:24 AM

You do understand that they are still on the opposite side of this issue, right? They don't believe that such a massive and bloated transportation bill should be funded because they realize the amount of pure waste and corruption in this sort of bill. The basis of their opposition is rooted in tying something they believe is good for our country (drilling and energy jobs that are wellpaying and longterm) to such a wasteful spending extravaganza. Again, the jobs created by highway spending are shortterm and financed by ever soaring tax increases. Thanks again, Eddie

Rob PerksFeb 4 2012 03:48 PM

Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.

BSFeb 7 2012 09:18 AM

Rob--If you are not biased, could you please present the unbiased studies and data that you have used to conclude that diluted bitumen is more corrosive than any other oil routinely shipped by pipeline? Can you please present the data that shows that shipping diluted bitumen in a pipeline presents a significant risk due to corrosion?

You know what's ironic? The liquid that presents the highest corrosion risk in pipelines is ethanol. Ethanol is largely shipped by other means for this reason. However, the petroleum pipeline industry has developed means to safely ship ethanol.

Rob PerksFeb 7 2012 01:42 PM

BS -- This report details the chemical differences of DilBit from other petroleum products: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/tarsandssafetyrisks.asp

The report shows how this new product brings a significantly different chemical composition from other petroleums that creates difficulty in transportation and cleanup when spills occur. Due to its thicker nature, increased heat and pressure are necessary to move it through a pipeline.

Tar sands diluted bitumen has five-to-ten times as much sulfur as conventional crude and more chloride salts. Both substances can weaken pipelines and make them more likely to break during a pressure spike. Refiners have reported finding more quartz sand and other solid material in tar sands diluted bitumen. At high pressure, this material basically sandblasts the inside of the pipe.

The pipeline system in Alberta, which is newer and carries more tar sands oil, has experienced 16 times more safety incidences due to internal corrosion than the U.S. pipeline system -- making it a strong indicator of the corrosive nature of raw tar sands oil. Despite the unique risks inherent to the transport of Canada’s acidic diluted bitumen, American regulators have not yet created any new safeguards or regulations for this new product as it begins to flow across American soil.

Basically, it is clearly different from the stuff that we have normally handled in our pipelines, but will be ramping up super-fast without any research to see if the same issues that come in to play in refineries must be dealt with in pipelines. We've always gotten partially refined tarsands (upgraded) until recently---but they don't have capacity for that up north anymore, so they are just pushing the stuff at higher pressure and heated through existing and new pipes.

BSFeb 7 2012 03:34 PM

Rob, I don't consider anything from the NRDC to be a valid, unbiased source of information. You have an agenda.

But I will be happy to address the table on page 6 of the report you have referenced.

In that table, you compare Canadian crude to "conventional" crude. Your conventional crude is obviously West Texas Intermediate. However, most oil these days is not conventional. There are many types of crude oil already being shipped all over the US that have high acid and sulfur numbers like those you list in the table.

Next, you say that the Canadian crude is shipped at 158F. First, that is not true, at least not on Keystone or any other pipeline I'm aware of. The crude oil on Keystone is not heated and I guarantee you it does not run at 158F. Also, much of California's heavy crude oil is heated to temperatures as high as 180F and actually must be heated or they can't be pumped.

Next, you claim that heavy crude is shipped at higher pressures. The 1,440psi number you reference is the maximum operation pressure of a certain type of steel pipe. Many pipelines from ethane all the way up to heavy crude are operated at this pressure. There are also countless pipelines operated at lower pressures. The operating pressure of a pipeline is a function of fluid properties, pump station spacing, pipe diameter, and use of drag reducing agents.

In fact, the highest pressure pipelines are those that ship clean-burning natural gas.

With respect to abrasives, you're comments are not without merit, but they are overblown. Liquid pipeline velocities are generally in the 4-12 feet per second range. In this range, pipe wall erosion is not an issue. However, there are standards in place that require monitoring for pipe wall erosion when high enough velocities exist. Pipelines are also required to regularly run "smart tools" or "smart pigs" that among other things, measure any metal loss in the pipe wall. If enough metal loss is found, pipelines are immediately de-rated (operate at a reduced operating pressure) until those issues are fixed.

Rob PerksFeb 7 2012 05:18 PM

I find it odd that you say you've never heard of a pipeline that runs as hot as 158 F and in the next sentence you talk about hotter pipelines in CA. In any case, I'm sure nothing I explain to you about the ill-advised Keystone pipeline will persuade you since I work for NRDC.

BSFeb 7 2012 07:52 PM

Don't twist my words, please. I said, "Next, you say that the Canadian crude is shipped at 158F. First, that is not true, at least not on Keystone or any other pipeline I'm aware of."

I said I've never heard of Canadian crude being heated. That doesn't mean it never is, but if it is, it's the exception. It's expensive to ship heated oil by pipeline, and generally it's only done when the oil won't flow otherwise.

The Keystone line does hold onto the heat it gains as it is pumped and due to friction. So it does stay at a temperature above ambient, but it's more like 80F, not 158F.

I understand your frustration that virtually your entire campaing against Keystone is based on faleshoods. Perhaps you should re-consider your position?

Rob PerksFeb 7 2012 07:58 PM

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth. Oh well, I can see why they call you "B.S." Have a good one.

BSFeb 7 2012 09:17 PM

Rob, your own website's code of conduct below indicates that discussions here should remain civil and on-topic.

Can you defend your position or not?

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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