A coalition of pro-energy lawmakers on Tuesday urged President Obama to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, saying a recent State Department report found it poses no major environmental threat.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., joined nearly a dozen Senate and House members, labor leaders and Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer at a press conference in support of the pipeline that would stretch from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska.
"It is just time to build the pipeline. It’s time for the president to say yes," Pryor said at the press conference.
The State Department delivered its final environmental assessment on Friday, saying the plan would not have much impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department is now accepting public comment on the statement for 90 days. Pryor and the other lawmakers want President Obama to approve the plan soon after.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said additional delays could cost another "construction season" for the northern section of the pipeline, which has been under review for at least five years.
"We have winter and we have construction season. We need this approved at day 91," Terry said.
Congress is unlikely to take any legislative action during the public comment period but several options are on the table for proponents should the White House fail to act swiftly – including imposing a deadline on the president to act. A similar effort led Obama to reject the plan in January 2012, saying he had not been given sufficient time to study the proposal.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, issued a statement Tuesday calling on Obama to approve the pipeline. He also suggested that the Senate should consider legislation to approve the construction.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said Tuesday that he also wants to see the pipeline built and that Obama should have approved it last year.
"There is no reason not to do it. We are talking about creating many, many thousands of jobs," he said.
The $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Canada to Texas oil refineries. The 485-mile southern half of the pipeline, which did not need State Department approval, is already open.
Meanwhile, steel pipe for northern sections is being stored at Welspun Tubular in Little Rock.
Environmental groups opposing the pipeline argue that it does nothing to reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.
"President Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director of NRDC. "Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate. That is absolutely not in our national interest."
Pryor said that transporting oil through a pipeline poses less of a safety risk than trucking the oil or shipping it by rail. He also noted that pipeline materials and construction techniques have improved in recent years.
"I am sensitive to environmental concerns. We have seen in Arkansas with Mayflower what can happen when a pipeline goes bad. But, we also know how much better technology is today," Pryor said.
Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.Dak., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.Dak., David Vitter, R-La., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also spoke at the press conference.