By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats unveiled legislation on Friday that would block export of any oil transported by the Keystone XL pipeline, as they challenged claims that the delayed project would boost U.S. energy security.
TransCanada's $7 billion Keystone pipeline has become a political lightning rod this election year, with Republicans arguing that the pipeline will provide a critical link to Canada's vast oil sands crude and lessen U.S. dependence on oil from more hostile regimes.
But critics of the project charge that "dirty" oil sands crude will exacerbate climate change and leaks on the pipeline could harm sensitive ecosystems. They also question how much oil transported through the 1,700 mile pipeline would actually remain in the United States.
Democrats sponsoring the bill blocking exports of oil and refined fuels from Keystone said their measure would ensure that Americans benefit from the pipeline if it is constructed.
"Without my bill this pipeline will not do a thing to enhance the security of our country," said Congressman Edward Markey, an outspoken opponent of the pipeline, at a House energy committee hearing on the project.
The bill would allow waivers to the rule if the president certifies that selling the fuel to other countries would not increase imports of fuel from hostile countries and would not raise costs for U.S. consumers.
The Obama administration facing a congressional deadline delayed the project again last month, saying it needed more time to review alternative routes for the pipeline. Since then, Republicans have doubled down on efforts to get the pipeline approved.
Senator John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, has crafted legislation that would bypass the White House and empower Congress to give Keystone the greenlight.
Another bill in the House of Representatives would move approval authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The legislation backed by Markey and four other Democrats will likely have a hard time making it into law, with many Republicans opposed to putting such limits on fuel exports.
Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield responded to Markey's discussion of his bill by pointing out that the United States exports less than 5 percent of its petroleum products.
"We want to increase our exports," he said at the hearing.