By Ben Geman
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on Monday bashed his Democratic counterparts for suggesting a pipeline project that Republicans want to expedite is a gift to Koch Industries, the refining company helmed by billionaire brothers that support conservative causes.
Upton used a statement prepared for a hearing about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — which would expand imports of crude from Canada’s oil sands — to attack Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) letter Friday that asked Upton to probe whether Koch has oil sands-related investments that would benefit from the project.
Upton attacked the “outrageous accusation from the minority that this pipeline deserves even greater scrutiny because one company might or might not benefit from its construction.”
“This blatant political sideshow is simply a distraction that, in the end, underscores the desperation of those who want to stand in the way of this common sense project,” Upton said.
A committee panel is holding a hearing Monday about legislation that would require the State Department to make a decision by Nov. 1 about whether to approve the 1,700-mile, multi-billion dollar project to move crude from Alberta’s oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refining markets.
Waxman’s letter to Upton last week urged him to seek documents about whether Koch has investments or other links or plans related to Canada’s oil sands projects that would mean the company benefits from the pipeline, even though it’s not invested in the proposed pipeline itself.
Waxman said Monday that he had learned that the committee GOP leadership would not make the inquiries he is seeking.
“If their objection is that Koch should not be singled out by the committee, I have no objection to asking other companies about their interest in tar sands,” Waxman said. “What I do object to is protecting Koch from legitimate scrutiny.”
He noted that other companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips have been willing to discuss their interests in oil sands but “Koch has refused to answer basic questions.”
Waxman said the bill would lead to higher gas prices — a view pipeline proponents call incorrect — as well as increased greenhouse gases and endangered water supplies. The project’s opponents fear a spill could contaminate key U.S. water supplies.
“We know who will lose,” Waxman said. “We also need to find out who will benefit.”
The prepared statement from Upton — who was not at the hearing’s opening — attacked other arguments against a project that he touted as a key tool for curbing reliance on Middle Eastern oil and stabilize and lower gas prices.
He noted that the oil sands — which environmentalists oppose due to greenhouse gas emissions and development’s effects on Alberta’s boreal forests and waters — will be produced whether the U.S. buys them or not, citing the possibility of a pipeline to the west that would instead serve Chinese markets.
“Instead of refining oil from a democratic ally — one that goes to great lengths to properly regulate its oil industry — refineries in the U.S. will experience increased volumes from places like Nigeria, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. In the end, the environment suffers more in this scenario,” Upton said.
The bill’s proponents say the bill is needed because the State Department has dragged its feet on TransCanada Corp.’s permit request that was filed in 2008. But pipeline opponents say Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-Neb.) bill would force the Obama administration to act on the project without proper review.