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New York Lawmakers Share Thoughts On Keystone XL, Oil Transport

WAMC/Pat Bradley

A bill that would support the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this week failed to clear the Senate by one vote.

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline was passed just last week for the ninth time by the Republican-led House of Representatives. This week, before the Democrat-controlled lame duck Senate, the measure failed by a single vote, 59-41. 

The pipeline would carry crude oil from Canada south through the United States to be refined and shipped overseas from the Gulf Coast.

Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat, voted against the Keystone bill, saying that the U.S. produces more oil than any other nation, and the pipeline is not an issue of supply, and that Congress should not be in the business of approving construction permits.

“When Congress can barely agree on an annual budget, and we’re talking about a second government shutdown being threatened, second shutdown in 14 months, I think anyone would agree that this institution, Congress, shouldn’t be in the business of approving or disapproving pipeline construction permits.”

Tonko, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce committee, has repeatedly called for the U.S. to look “outside the barrel” and develop alternative fuels and ways to reduce the country’s dependence on oil as part of a comprehensive energy plan.

The Congressman added that the pipeline would do nothing to reduce the amount of crude oil-carrying trains arriving at the Port of Albany, which have been met with safety concerns from nearby residents.

“What we have to understand here is that the oil being shipped along the rail lines coming through the 20th Congressional District, going through counties’ worth of rail and ending at the Albany County location at Albany port, are a shipment of Bakken crude. The tar sands that we’re talking about from the Canadian source is what the Keystone would be transporting through pipe. So the Bakken crude is still an issue that is to be shipped along rail as they have suggested.”

On the other hand, retiring Representative Bill Owens, a Democrat representing northern New York, has long been a supporter of the Keystone project. Owens, co-chair of the Northern Borders Caucus, said the pipeline would strengthen the U.S.’s economic relationship with Canada and create jobs.

Owens said that no matter where the oil is coming from or going to, North America will be increasing its production of oil. The Democrat said he believes transport via pipeline is safer than the country’s overloaded rail system.

“The quantity of oil going in to a rail car or the quantity of oil going into a tanker truck is relatively small, and therefore you have to have many more units of transportation, you are increasing the risk, in my view, rather substantially. If you put in an oil pipeline, I’m not suggesting there is not risk associated with a pipeline, but it is clearly, in my view, less risky.”  

Owens also backs a January 2014 State Department environmental impact statement, which said the project would support 42,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs, and would add $2 billion in earnings and $3.4 billion in GDP to the U.S. economy.

Ahead of the Senate’s vote, on Friday U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said she doesn’t see why the pipeline would be good for the country. She and fellow New York Senator Chuck Schumer voted nay.

“We’re exporting things that our market won’t even benefit from, we won’t get oil prices form, we just get enormous risk. So personally, I see it as an ill-advised project, but I do understand why others support it, because even if it could help a few thousand jobs, it’s very helpful to us. It’s just an enormous amount of risk for very little reward.”

Also in upstate New York, 19th District Republican Chris Gibson and 18th district Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney voted in support of Keystone XL. 

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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