The echoes had barely stopped from an announcement that a permit for a transcontinental pipeline had been denied before the camps of two U. S. Senate candidates were taking shots at each other.
President Barack Obama Wednesday denied issuing a permit to TransCanada Corp. to build a pipeline to transport tar sand oil. Obama, who had delayed making a decision until 2013, was required to make a decision by Feb. 21 by a rider attached to legislation extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who is challenging Tester in the Senate race this year, issued statements Wednesday decrying Obama’s decision.
Wednesday afternoon, supporters of each candidate also issued releases, attacking the other camp’s candidate for lack of support of the pipeline, which supporters say will bring thousands of jobs to the country.
“Today’s job-killing decision by Tester’s allies in the Obama Administration hands a victory to the radical environmental obstructionists who bankroll Tester’s re-election campaign, and strikes a harsh blow to Montana workers and families who would have benefited from thousands of pipeline jobs and a projected $7.5 million in revenues added to Montana’s state treasury, ” said a release by Montanans for Rehberg.
A little more than 30 minutes later, Montanans for Tester replied.
“Montanans for Tester has a simple response: Congressman Rehberg is the only member of Montana's congressional delegation who has voted against the Keystone XL pipeline. In other words, he “failed to stop himself from blocking Montana jobs, ” their release said.
In a flurry of activity in late December, both the House and Senate tried to force Obama’s hand on the pipeline permit by requiring him to make a decision within 60 days, rather than waiting until after the 2012 election.
Obama said in a statement Wednesday that the delay was required to analyze the impacts of the pipeline, particularly in its proposed route through Nebraska, where it would run through an environmentally sensitive region with an aquifer that supplies water to several states.
“The rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, ” Obama said in his written statement.
The requirement for Obama to make a decision on the pipeline first was proposed by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Nov. 30.
Rehberg sponsored the legislation in the House Dec. 1.
Along with several other riders, Rehberg’s pipeline legislation was attached to the House proposal to extend payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits for a year.
After the House passed its proposal, it was blocked in the Senate by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
Later, the Senate wrote its own two-month payroll tax cut and unemployment extension, saying it needed more time to negotiate how to pay for a full year’s extension. Baucus helped broker getting the pipeline permit decision included in the bill, and — after Tester amended it to include language intended to further protect private property rights — Tester and Baucus joined in an 89-10 vote to pass the bill to the House.
The Senate then recessed, with most senators returning to their home states.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called for a vote to refuse to pass the Senate bill and call for a conference committee to resolve the differences between the bills. Later in the same week, he reversed himself, calling for a vote of unanimous consent to approve the bill, where any vote against would have killed it — after almost all representatives, including Rehberg, had left Washington to return to their home states.
Jed Link, spokesman for Rehberg, said the ultimate blame should be on Obama. The language in the bill specifically allows more time to explore alternate routes through Nebraska.
“What I find interesting is that (Democrats), instead of blaming President Obama, are blaming Denny, ” he said Thursday.
He said Tester only is paying lip service to the pipeline. While Rehberg has been lobbying to get the permit approved, Tester has been sitting on the sidelines, Link said.
But Aaron Murphy, spokesman for Montanans for Tester, contested that. He forwarded the Havre Daily News letters Tester sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who made the recommendation to Obama to deny the permit Wednesday — in March and August expressing his support for the pipeline as long as private property rights and environmental concerns are addressed, and to Boehner in December urging him to move the pipeline forward.
Murphy said it was Rehberg’s vote that was against the pipeline.
“I find it rich of Rehberg to say anything about Jon Tester, ” Murphy said. “The only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote against the Keystone XL pipeline is Denny Rehberg. ”
But Link said Rehberg did not vote against the bill, he voted to call for a conference committee. Calling the two the same is calling apples oranges, Link said.
“It’s a little bit silly for the Democrats to say Denny voted against language that he wrote, ” Link said.
Murphy said that it wasn’t truly Rehbergh’s language — he sponsored Lugar’s legislation in the House, Murphy said.
The two opponents will likely get another chance to state their position on the issue. TransCanada said Wednesday it will apply again for a permit.
But Link said Obama will continue to oppose granting the permit. The fact that time was allowed in the bill to address concerns with the route through Nebraska shows the president’s opposition, he said.
“The president is not being honest when he says didn’t have time, ” Link said.