As the second week of international climate talks in Lima, Peru winds down, Republicans, fresh off recapturing the Senate, are already planning to attack President Obama’s new greenhouse gas reduction plans.
At the top of their legislative to-do list: approving the Keystone XL Pipeline, which four weeks ago fell one one vote short of passing.
“We believe there is a lot of support to bring it up as one of the first bills of the session,” said Don Canton, communications director for Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, who has led negotiations on the measure. Canton said it would either come up again as a stand-alone bill, or as part of a larger appropriations package.
Either way, “It will be a priority.”
Nicholas Colas, the chief market strategist at Convergex, a global brokerage company based in New York, said in a recent note to clients that after meeting with five GOP senators and one Republican congressman, the pipeline emerged as “the most commonly mentioned item” to push through in the new majority’s first 100 days.
“That seems to be the fulcrum on the lever to get the boulder moving downhill,” he told Fusion in a follow-up email.
The fixation on the pipeline, the final leg of which has been delayed for six years, is not limited to Washington. Down in Lima, some negotiators have seized on the Keystone’s fate as a test of the U.S.’s commitment to the emissions goals set forth in the climate pact with China reached last month.
"With Congress in the hands of climate deniers, other countries are looking for clear, tangible evidence from the White House that they are serious about continuing to push through strong climate action,” Jamie Henn, the strategy and communications director for climate activist group 350.org, said in an email from the talks. “That means that decisions like Keystone XL become even more important.”
But if the pipeline manages to get approved, U.S. credibility at Lima, as well as future climate talks, would be “completely undermined,” he said.
There remains some ambiguity about how exactly Congress would be able to approve the pipeline, which would deliver 730,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Since it is an international project, Keystone requires a permit from the U.S. State Department to proceed. Sen. Hoeven has said he received an opinion from the Congressional Research Service agreeing that Congress can bypass the President’s authority under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to approve the project.
But any bill that emerges would have to pass through the White House anyway, and President Obama has indicated he would veto it. In a recent appearance on the Colbert Report, Obama said the Keystone’s impact on the climate "could be disastrous."
In addition, Nebraska’s supreme court must rule on a late-stage legal challenge to the project’s route through the state. Neither branch of the federal government can act until Nebraska approves it.
Meanwhile, the new Senate majority was already at work undermining the President’s climate goals this week, successfully inserting language into the “CRomnibus” spending deal agreed Wednesday that bars contributions to the international Green Climate Fund for the rest of the year. The deal also limits the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s ability to limit financial support to coal-fired power plants built overseas.
Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky told The Hill the coal measure was “very, very important,” saying it would for now beat back what he described as President Obama’s “war on coal.”
Nat Keohane, vice president of international climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, said delegates in Lima are also looking to see whether Republicans are able to successfully overturn existing laws, like the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan that will cut emissions from power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Twelve states are suing the EPA, saying the agency does not have the authority to enact the rules.
“In the long run in order to make the cuts we will need after 2025, we need to get back to a bipartisan national conversation on climate,” Keohane said in an email from Lima.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.