A U.S. Senate committee approved a bill that would bypass President Barack Obama and permit the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, part of a drive by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to force a vote by the full Senate.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12-10 today for legislation that would let Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. (TRP) build then operate the $5.4 billion Canada-to-U.S. oil pipeline that has been snagged in disputes for more than five years. Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Chairman Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who helped write the bill, joined all the Republicans in backing the legislation.
“This is about what our future energy policy should look like,” said Landrieu, pointing to the need to boost construction employment and expand oil imports from Canada and also Mexico, both long-time allies.
The measure’s prospects aren’t good, however. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who sets the agenda for chamber action, hasn’t agreed to bring the issue up for a vote. Obama could veto it if it did pass.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the committee action as a “political show vote.”
“The question isn’t whether energy-state Democrats can support a Keystone bill in committee,” McConnell of Kentucky said in an e-mailed statement. “It’s whether or not they’ll continue to stand with their party and their leader in blocking the full Senate from voting on it, or whether they’ll stand up for jobs and demand a vote.”
The committee advanced its bill after negotiations to allow a vote on the Keystone measure as an amendment on an energy efficiency bill fell apart last month. At the time, supporters said they had backing from 56 senators, four shy of the needed 60 to prevent it from being blocked. The backers included all 45 Senate Republicans.
Landrieu, who is seeking re-election in a state Obama lost in 2012, has used her support of the pipeline to highlight her independence from the president and her party. Her race against U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy, a Republican, is considered her toughest yet.
Senator Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic leader, said yesterday that party leaders haven’t ruled out letting it come before the full chamber on a different bill later this year.
“We’ve been preparing to consider that as an amendment,” Durbin said. “I’m not sure if and when it will come up.”
Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican and a Keystone supporter, said today he doubts that will happen and said Landrieu’s vote is “a cheerleading exercise rather than a meaningful effort to get the pipeline approved.”
Most Democrats on the panel said approving the permit by legislation would sidestep an intense review process by the Obama administration and the measure shouldn’t advance.
“These things are bad precedents to put into statutes,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat.
The proposed pipeline would link Canada’s oil sands with refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The administration is under pressure to block the project by environmentalists who say the project would boost greenhouse-gas emissions. Backers say it would create jobs and promote North America energy independence.
“We urge the Senate to take a leadership role and complete the process that has taken far too long in creating good-paying American jobs,” said Jack Gerard, president of the oil-industry trade group American Petroleum Institute, in an e-mail.
The State Department, which is leading an interagency review of the pipeline proposal, had asked other agencies to file comments on the plan by early this month. On April 18, it announced it would extend that deadline until a legal challenge to the route through Nebraska is settled by the state Supreme Court. That probably extends consideration into 2015.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, a top environmental group that opposes the pipeline’s construction, called the Senate panel’s measure a “political ploy” that will boost greenhouse-gas emissions.
“This latest vote on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all about politics and bad policy,” said Anthony Swift, an NRDC attorney. “Locking ourselves into a massive infrastructure to move the dirtiest oil on the planet for the next 50 years would greatly worsen carbon pollution -- at a time when we’re facing growing and grievous costs wrought by climate change.”
Republicans are seeking to cast Landrieu’s inability to get the legislation through the Senate as a liability. Today, the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a web video highlighting Landrieu’s “ineffectiveness,” and a press release pointing out that keeping her in office helps keep Democrats in control of the Senate.
“A vote for Landrieu actually hurts pro-energy states like Louisiana,” Brad Dayspring, and NRSC spokesman, said in a statement.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take the chamber’s majority. They’re likely to win three open seats, and are targeting four incumbents in states that Obama lost in 2012: Landrieu, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
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