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—Bill Owens (NY-21) and Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4), who are both retiring at the end of their terms, were the other two—to support the measure this time around. The rest of New York’s Democratic congressional delegation voted against the measure, adding to a total 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 pipeline’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, although 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, though, argued the State Department’s report downplayed the pipeline’s potential impact. Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk has written in The New York Times about the impact of the pipeline’s construction on environmental factors other than greenhouse gas emissions, including the destruction of boreal forests and wetlands.
Regarding the pipeline’s job creation, the 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.
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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.”
Though the pipeline would act in that capacity, Stephanie Formas, Maloney’s deputy chief of staff and communications director, points out that the pipeline would also transport American product in addition to Canadian. According to Maloney, America currently lacks the proper infrastructure to transport crude oil safely across the country, which has increased shipments by train and barge. The Association of American Railroads estimates the number of carloads transporting crude across America rose from approximately 9,500 in 2008 to more than 400,000 in 2013. Some of these shipments pass through the Hudson Valley, on their ways to and from refineries on the east coast and in Canada, which Maloney said was a factor in his support.
“We currently have a defacto pipeline of crude passing through the Hudson Valley by rail and by barge. With no pipeline infrastructure near the Bakken shale, there are billions of gallons of crude traveling along the Hudson River and through population centers,” Maloney said. “I want to get these oil shipments under control in the Hudson Valley, and the Keystone Pipeline is an alternative way of moving this highly volatile crude.”
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 or opposition of the pipeline.
UPDATE (11/19): The Senate has failed to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a potential filibuster, meaning the Keystone XL approval bill cannot move forward. Congressional Republicans have said they plan to bring the bill up again for a vote next year, when they gain control of the Senate.
The original version of this article was published with additional quotes from Stephanie Formas speaking on behalf of Congressman Maloney. These quotes were replaced with direct quotes from the Congressman when they were later provided to Westchester Magazine.