Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), who represents parts of Westchester and Dutchess counties, as well as Putnam and Orange counties, broke party lines last week by joining 30 other Democrats and almost every Republican in the House to send a bill approving the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline to the Senate.
Maloney, who has supported the pipeline with similar votes in the past, was one of only three New York Democrats to support the measure this time around. Bill Owens (NY-21) and Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4), who are both retiring at the end of their terms, were the other two. The rest of New York’s Democratic Congressional delegation voted against the measure, a total number of 161 Democratic nay votes. All but 12 Republicans supported the bill.
“I’ve been an outspoken and independent advocate for investment in new sources of energy because it’s time to act — construction of the Keystone XL pipeline creates thousands of new high skilled, high paying jobs now and helps place America on a path to energy independence,” said Maloney in a statement regarding the pipeline.
Although polls have shown Americans generally support the pipeline’s construction — left-leaning Americans, as a group, show the weakest support and strongest opposition — drilling deeper into the bill’s potential impact on the environment, jobs, and American energy independence reveals why the issue is so hotly debated.
Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the National Resource Defense Council have raised concerns over the environmental risks the pipeline’s construction could create. But a State Department report issued in January estimated its construction would not have a significant impact on America’s greenhouse gas emissions. A report from a United Kingdom-based research group argued the State Department’s report downplayed the pipeline’s impact.
Regarding the pipeline’s job creation, the U.S. State Department has estimated it could create between 1,950 to 3,900 American jobs — depending on how fast it is completed — but only 50 permanent jobs after the construction is done, 15 of which would be spots for temporary contractors. TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline, says those numbers are too low.
Finally, on energy independence, critics have charged that the pipeline would have a limited impact on America’s independence on foreign oil. The liberal blog Daily Kos wrote on Friday that the pipeline would only “transport Canada’s dirty tar sands oil across the United States to the Gulf of Mexico, where it will be shipped overseas.”
While the pipeline would act in that capacity, Stephanie Formas, Maloney’s deputy chief of staff and communications director, is quick to point out that the pipeline would also transport American product in addition to Canadian.
“The Keystone Pipeline would also transport Bakkan crude as well — crude currently coming from the Bakkan shale in North Dakota and Montana,” she said. “The Hudson Valley has seen an [astronomical] increase in crude by rail shipments… A larger percentage of this crude is Bakkan crude.”
According to Formas, America currently lacks the proper pipeline infrastructure to transport crude oil safely across the country, which has increased shipments by train and barge. Many of these shipments pass through the Hudson Valley, which was a factor in Maloney’s support.
“Back in 2008, the U.S. only had about 10,000 rail cars of crude oil. Now that’s increased 40-fold across the country, as well as increased in the Hudson Valley. The Congressman is concerned and recognizes the danger of billions of gallons of crude coming through the Hudson Valley, which is why he’s introduced legislation on the issue, worked with DOT on safety regulations, and supports the Keystone Pipeline,” Formas said. “Part of Sean’s concern has been that the Hudson Valley doesn’t see the economic benefits of these oil shipments but does actually face the risks of spills. With the Keystone, there would create a direct pathway to send the crude to the Southern refineries.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later tonight. There has been widespread speculation that President Obama would veto the bill if it passes in the senate. If Obama does break out the veto pen, the Keystone XL Pipeline could become a key issue once again in the 2016 presidential election. Suspected Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton — who made a rare appearance on the campaign trail with Maloney during his reelection bid this year — has not made any public statements of support of opposition of the pipeline.