Congress has legal clout on Keystone pipeline: study

Fri Jan 20, 2012 10:13pm EST
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By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Congress has the constitutional right to legislate permits for cross-border oil pipelines like TransCanada's Keystone XL, according to a new legal analysis released late on Friday.

The study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service could give a boost to Republicans drafting legislation to overturn a decision this week by President Barack Obama to put the $7 billion Alberta-to-Texas project on ice.

Historically, U.S. presidents have made executive decisions on pipelines that cross borders. But Congress had the power all along to weigh in on the permits, said the study, done by four legislative attorneys with the CRS.

"If Congress chose to assert its authority in the area of border-crossing facilities, this would likely be considered within its Constitutionally enumerated authority to regulate foreign commerce," the study said.

Republicans in Congress have elevated the Canadian pipeline and the construction jobs it would create into an election-year issue, accusing Obama of caving in to environmental groups. They pushed to include a deadline for a permit approval in a payroll tax cut bill that Obama signed into law in December.

But this week, Obama and the State Department said an environmental review of a portion of the proposed pipeline could not be rushed, closing the door on a quick start to the project.


The CRS study examined the history of decisions by presidents on thorny issues involving approval of cross-border projects such as bridges and power lines stretching back to 1869, when President Ulysses Grant ruled on a French transatlantic cable used to send telegrams.   Continued...