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.