U.S. Rep Connie Mack is fired up about the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a divisive energy project he’s made the heart of his U.S. Senate campaign.
The Republican congressman wants you, the voter, to be mad, too. Specifically, mad at President Barack Obama and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, the "lockstep liberals" whom he accuses of holding up the project.
Freedom PAC, a pro-Mack super PAC, is out with an ad that attacks Obama and Nelson over Keystone. (The ad is on the Web; it’s not yet running on television, though.)
"President Obama said no to the Keystone XL pipeline," the ad says. "That’s saying no to lower gas prices, no to more jobs, no to greater energy security. Sen. Bill Nelson chose to side with President Obama over the people of Florida. Now you have a choice. Connie Mack supports Keystone XL."
PolitiFact has already debunked misleading claims about the project’s potential to create 20,000 jobs and "immediately" lower gas prices.
Nelson’s record on Keystone, though, is new ground.
First, the vitals. We’re talking about a 1,700-mile pipeline that would transport oil sands from Canada to refineries in Texas and Oklahoma. It would shoot off of an existing Keystone pipeline connecting Canada and Illinois (USA Today offered this illustration).
The most controversial part of Keystone XL is the proposed northern route, which environmentalists and some Republican Nebraskans fear may damage sensitive lands and an important aquifer. Business and union groups are on the other side, touting its potential for desperately needed construction jobs and reducing the country’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
Because the pipeline crosses an international border, it needs approval from the Obama administration.
Here are the recent, relevant milestones:
Nov. 10, 2011: Following mounting pressure from environmentalists, the Obama administration announces it will put off a decision on the permit until 2013, pending more review of environmental implications.
Dec. 23, 2011: Obama signs a law temporarily keeping in place lower payroll taxes. It also contains an unrelated Keystone measure, which forces a decision on the permit within 60 days.
Jan. 18, 2012: Citing the "rushed and arbitrary" two-month deadline, Obama decides not to approve the permit for TransCanada, the principal company behind the pipeline. Obama says his decision "is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline."
March 8, 2012: The Senate votes on two Keystone-related amendments on a highway funding bill. Both fail. A Republican-sponsored measure would have circumvented Obama and allowed Congress to authorize the pipeline (failed 56-42). One sponsored by Democrats would have prevented exports of oil from Canada transported via the pipeline (failed 33-65).
March 22, 2012: Obama travels to Cushing, Okla., where he announces his approval of the development of the project’s southern leg, which was supposed to start in June anyway. Republicans criticize him, saying the leg does not require presidential approval since it does not cross a national border.
May 4, 2012: The State Department announces it has received a new application from TransCanada for the northern segment of the pipeline connecting the Canadian border to an existing pipeline in Steele City, Neb. The department must decide if granting a permit is in the national interest.
Contrary to the pro-Mack ad’s "they killed it" vibe, the $7-billion project isn’t dead. Construction on the southern part of the pipeline extension is underway, and the State Department will reevaluate TransCanada’s new application for the northern leg.
It’s also hard to gauge Obama’s intentions from his actions. Did he say "no" to the pipeline, as the commercial claims from the beginning? Or do his actions really point to "not now," since he has praised parts of it?
Nelson’s actions are also not crystal-clear either, and he has not said much publicly about it.
In December, he joined his colleagues in unanimous approval of a temporary extension of the pay roll tax cuts that included the Republican provision forcing Obama to evaluate the project within two months. But that was less a vote on the merits of Keystone and more about extending payroll tax cuts.
In March, Nelson split his votes on two party-line Keystone amendments. He voted against the GOP-backed measure that would have circumvented several procedures to speed up Keystone. Those include state permitting, national interest determination, environmental impact and tribal sovereignty, said Jason Kowalski, policy director of 350.org, which opposes the project.
But minutes earlier, he voted for the Democratic-inserted provision preventing exports of Keystone oil.
It’s important to note that both amendments were designed to fail. By taking votes anyway, senators could tell voters they tried to move along the job-creating project.
Nelson’s team insists he is for it, with conditions.
In a March statement, Nelson said, "I support the pipeline – just not in an area where it runs over an entire region’s water supply, which the folks in Nebraska don’t want either. … Additionally, Congress needs to enact a requirement that the oil shipped from Canada must be kept in our domestic supply and not sold to foreign countries."
The head of Freedom PAC isn’t buying that. Political consultant Matt Williams, who’s in charge of the PAC, said by email that Nelson "took the position the White House was lobbying senators to take" when he voted not to expedite the Keystone pipeline. (POLITICO has more background on Obama’s lobbying efforts against the GOP-led amendment, which failed despite 11 Democratic senators thwarting Obama’s wishes and voting to bypass him.)
We asked Kowalski from 350.org for his take on where Nelson stands. He said it’s become a political issue, since Congress doesn’t usually direct regulatory actions on pipelines.
"Sen. Nelson has been consistent with Obama on this issue," he said.
Overall, the ad is laden with misleading facts we’ve already checked. The super PAC comes closer to the truth when it says Nelson and Obama are on the same side, but it still lacks details and context for viewers.
First of all, the project isn’t dead. The principal owners just reapplied for a permit. We know that happened after the ad debuted, but it wasn’t really dead then, either.
Nelson says he is for the pipeline, but he did follow Obama’s wishes by voting against expediting the permit in a close, bipartisan Senate vote in March. His record also shows a vote in favor of Keystone, though voters should understand its part of political strategy in an election year.
The bottom line is that neither Nelson nor Obama has come out definitively against the project. They’ve managed to side with environmentalists -- for now -- by taking action against it this year, but the door is open for future support.
We have a rating for statements like this. It’s Half True.