The Keystone XL pipeline is too important to America’s economy not to approve, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., told a Billings business group Tuesday.
Baucus, speaking during a leadership luncheon organized by the Billings Chamber of Commerce, said he has pressed the case for Keystone pipeline approval with Secretary of State John Kerry and has visited with Canadian Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver. Ultimately, the decision rests with President Barack Obama, who made no mention of the project in last week’s State of the Union speech.
“Clearly, the Keystone pipeline is one that’s got to be approved by the president,” Baucus said.
Baucus and Montana’s other statewide elected officials are pushing for Keystone’s approval, not only to ship Alberta tar sands oil southward but also to ship Bakken crude from Montana and North Dakota.
Environmentalists oppose the pipeline, arguing that tar sands oil is more harmful to the environment than most oil, mainly because the process to extract it from sand is carbon-intensive. A weekend protest outside the White House drew an estimated 35,000 people opposed to the pipeline, coal energy and loose air regulations.
Baucus said the pipeline’s benefits to the regional and national economies are compelling reasons for Keystone’s passage, something he impressed on Kerry, a former Senate colleague.
“As soon as it became clear he was going to be secretary of state, I said ‘John, come over to my office. This has got to be approved by the president. It’s important to our country. It’s jobs for my state, clearly, but it’s also energy security for America. Tar sands oil is going to go elsewhere. It will go to China if it doesn’t come to America, which makes no sense,'” Baucus said. “He said he was only weighing in on the environment. The signature is up to the president. He was willing to listen.”
Kerry has been quiet about the Keystone decision, telling the Washington press corps only that the process will be “fair, transparent and accountable,” while indicating he sees the decision being made soon.
For Eastern Montana, the pipeline could provide much-needed tax revenue for road, water, sewer projects and schools in an area stressed by the 24-hour grind of oil exploration, Baucus said.
In addition to the pipeline, Baucus discussed the need for Congress to get away from short-term fixes and return to passing long-term legislation. Long-term measures would give America much-needed certainty about everything from federal taxes to funding for basic needs like highways and schools.
“We just desire for more certainty, more predictability in our lives, whether its business, consumers, bankers,” Baucus said. “We just need to, if we can, get a little more certainty with what the laws are and the regulations are, and when it’s reasonable, just don’t change them all the time.”
Specifically, Baucus said Republicans and Democrats need to pass a long-term farm bill, a long-term highway bill and tax and spending reform. As an example, Baucus pointed to permanent terms for the estate tax that he negotiated in late 2012 as part of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations.
“It wasn’t easy, but we got it done. From here on out, no one will pay the estate tax on inheritances less than $5 million. And that’s indexed (to inflation), from here on out,” Baucus said. “That means your business can stay in you family. It’s certainty for our family farms and ranches, too.”
Baucus said he will spend the next year working for a better highway bill, promoting trade agreements that benefit Montana farms and businesses, and doing what he can to advance development of Montana energy resources.