U.S. Rep. Babin talks Keystone, oil by rail in exclusive interview with Business Journal
U.S. Representative Brian Babin of Texas’ 36th Congressional District toured the Port of Beaumont and Jefferson Energy Terminal on Thursday, Feb. 19, to receive an update on the ongoing oil-by-rail industry project.
The Jefferson Energy Project will allow intermodal movement of crude oil by rail, water and pipeline to the terminal from any point in North America, said Jefferson Energy Companies Director of Government Affairs & Special Projects Mark Viator. Viator, Port of Beaumont Director and CEO Chris Fisher, and Port Commission Vice-President Lee E. Smith were on hand to brief Babin on the state of the port and Jefferson Energy terminal, which is currently completing its second phase.
According to Fisher, the Port of Beaumont has invested about $45 million into the construction of the facility and Jefferson Energy has spent approximately $250 million on the current phases of the project.
Babin serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and will be reporting back to the committee the capabilities and status of the terminal, which is located on the Orange County side of the Port of Beaumont and falls in Babin’s District 36. The Business Journal had an opportunity to ride along on the tour and speak with Babin in a follow-up interview Tuesday, Feb. 24, on a myriad of topics including his visit to the port.
Q. What was the purpose of your visit to the Jefferson Energy Terminal?
A. I’m a native Beaumonter. I was born in Port Arthur and raised in Beaumont since age 5. I’m very interested in what happens in Southeast Texas. … I had seen (the Jefferson Energy Terminal) back during … election season, … and it was amazing to see the progress that had been made. Also, this part of the Port of Beaumont is going across the river into Orange County. This is right in my district. Plus … I was appointed to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and I have jurisdiction over our nation’s ports and have four ports in my district — Port of Houston, Port of Orange, Port of Cedar Bayou and Port of Beaumont. This is quite frankly something I am very interested in.
Q. Now that you are back in Washington, what do you plan on reporting back to the Committee in regards to the Jefferson Energy project?
A. I was impressed with what I saw — the substantial progress. I am going to report back to our committee that Southeast Texas is a leader in producing energy. We have some of the largest refineries in the world right … in Southeast Texas in my District 36 and also in District 14 (includes Jefferson County). This is a huge deal. I look forward to sharing our successes and the opportunities that exist in our area.
Q. President Barack Obama vetoed the bill that would force Keystone Pipeline through on Tuesday, Feb. 24, saying that the bill “conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment.” What is your reaction?
A. This is extremely disappointing. People that live in red and blue states want to see the Keystone Pipeline. I think it is self-serving that the president would ignore common sense and the evidence from his own State Department and the studies that show it’s not going to be detrimental to the environment. There have been other pipelines that have been approved, even during his own administration. I think he is trying to please a small portion of his base. I think the biggest issue in the president’s mind is global warming and climate change. … He is vetoing a bill that is going to provide 42,000 jobs in the middle of a recession. I don’t understand.
Q. Congress is now going to have to try to gather more votes for a two-thirds majority vote. Are you optimistic that Congress can attain that?
A. There is a big question mark there. I will say this: 39 Democrats in the House of Representatives that I serve in voted along with us Republicans. There is a lot of pressure on (Democrats). Will they stick to their guns and vote to pass (Keystone), to override the president, which is a member of their own Democratic party? I can’t predict that; I really can’t.
Q. How important are crude-by-rail projects like Jefferson Energy’s in the grand scheme of things and when it comes to the U.S. domestic oil market trying to become less dependent on foreign oil, especially now that we’ve seen a presidential veto on Keystone XL?
A. I think crude-by-rail and by ship are of enormous significance and importance. I am proud to represent an area that’s a leader in producing the energy we’re using today. It’s in the forefront of creating the domestic energy that will carry us on into the future. Just a few short years ago, every expert in this country was telling us that the era of fossil fuels was over and that we were going to be dependent on green energy and energy from other sources. And here we are on the verge of energy independence … with all the horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracking, all the new technology in drilling and oil and gas exploration.