Keystone XL wouldn't be such a bad project if pipeline builder TransCanada could assure us that it would pay for cleaning up whatever messes the pipeline might make if it spills tar sands oil in our fair state. Oil companies provide us that assurance by paying an eight-cents-per-barrel excise tax on the oil they ship into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. (One barrel produces 19 gallons of gasoline, among other products, so that tax adds far less than a penny to the price you pay at Kum & Go.)

But not TransCanada, not on Keystone XL. Back in 2011, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that tar sands oil imported into the U.S. is exempt from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax, because it's "synthetic petroleum," not "oil."

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) tried last week to amend the Keystone XL bill to require TransCanada to pay that cleanup tax on the tar sands oil it seeks to ship across South Dakota:

If you break it, you buy it, and if you spill oil over the heartland of America, you should pay for its cleanup. In recent years, we have witnessed major pipeline breaks in Michigan, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota, spewing oil in these communities. Instead of getting a $24 million-a-year tax break not afforded to other pipeline companies, TransCanada should be held responsible if they put America’s environment and the health of American citizens at risk [Rep. John Garamendi, floor statement, 2015.01.09].

Rep. Garamendi is talking basic responsibility. But if I'm reading the roll calls right, his amendment, rolled into a motion to recommit, failed on a straight party-line vote, with every Republican in the room, including our Rep. Kristi Noem, saying that making TransCanada pay for its messes is too much responsibility for our corporate Canadian friends to bear.

Hmm... I wonder if Congresswoman Noem picks up all of her son's dirty socks for him every weekend when she comes home from Washington.