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House Gums Up Tar Sands Deal

A section of the Keystone pipeline in Illinois that has already been constructed.
Photo by Keystone Pipeline System
A section of the Keystone pipeline in Illinois that has already been constructed.

Congress is working today on a payroll tax extension plan, but House Republicans could dash their own hopes for the Keystone XL Pipeline if they refuse to pass the deal approved by the Senate Saturday.

The Senate bill included language that would force President Obama to make a decision on the pipeline within sixty days, essentially forcing the Presidentto make a decision on the controversial pipeline right in the middle of primary season. (Popular political wisdom indicates that President Obama is leaning toward a "no.") Or, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein is blogging, the GOP dithering could gum up the pipeline indefinitely. 

By linking the pipeline to the payroll tax, politicians in Washington have added another layer of confusion to an already confusing project.

As KUT/NPR's StateImpact Texas is reporting today, the situation is "chaos."

First, a little history. The pipeline is a 1,700-mile behemoth that is currently in the planning stages. It would take crude oil from Canada (harvested from the country’s tar sands) to refineries in Texas. The original route would have taken the pipeline through sensitive aquifer and prairie lands in Nebraska. Local opposition there was partly responsible for the Obama administration’s decision, in October, to delay the pipeline until after the Presidential election. It was seen as a victory for environmental groups and a defeat for the industry, everyone pretty much considered the delay a done deal. Everyone was wrong.
In October, Congress started working on an agreement to extend a payroll tax cut. These extended cuts would mean less money taken out of your paycheck towards Social Security. Both Republicans and Democrats want to extend the cut, but disagree on how much the cut should be and how it will be paid for. In late November, Republicans attached an ultimatum to the deal: if the tax cut is extended, the President must make a decision on the pipeline within 60 days.

You can read more at StateImpact Texas.

Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.