Senate Votes to Take Up Bill Circumventing Obama on Keystone

The U.S. Senate on Monday advanced legislation that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline with a procedural vote that sets up what may become one of the most extensive discussions of energy policy in the chamber in years.

The 63-32 vote, while only a parliamentary first step, suggests what supporters have been saying for weeks, namely that they can pass the bill after years of trying. The House, which, like the Senate, is led by Republicans, passed a similar bill Friday.

Backers still appear short of the 67 votes they’d need to override a presidential veto. President Barack Obama opposes the bill because it would circumvent his administration’s review of TransCanada Corp.’s proposal to build Keystone, which is now in its sixth year.

Democrats said Congress shouldn’t intervene in the review, and that Keystone XL would promote fossil fuels when the U.S. should be turning to cleaner sources of power.

“Tar sands oil takes us in the wrong direction,” Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said before the vote.

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, and chief sponsor of the legislation, said the bill would create jobs and improve U.S. energy security.

The XL project would connect to an existing pipeline network, linking oil sands in Alberta, Canada, with U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

Ten Democrats

Ten Democrats and independent Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, joined Republicans in support of starting debate on the legislation. King has said he opposes the underlying bill. Six Democrats have signed on as sponsors. The debate probably will turn into a broader discussion over energy and environmental policy, as senators use the opportunity to offer amendments relating to fossil fuel exports, climate change and limiting Environmental Protection Agency anti-pollution rules.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, will propose an amendment that would lift the restrictions on exports of U.S. crude in place since the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s, his press secretary, Catherine Frazier, said today. Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, said he plans to introduce a provision promoting energy efficiency, a subject that has the backing of environmentalists and Democrats.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, plans to introduce language that would declare the Senate’s belief that human activity is causing climate change and the U.S. should move away from fossil fuels.

Republican and Democratic aides said party leaders were still discussing strategy and the amendments they’ll seek during the debate, which could stretch on for two or more weeks.

More Debate

The Monday vote sets up as much as 30 hours of debate before the Senate takes up the legislation and can begin considering amendments. Senate leaders can seek unanimous consent to cut the time and speed the process.

Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, a Democrat and an opponent of the measure, said the bill would promote the interests of a specific company and circumvent the review process for cross-border pipelines.

While Republicans may want to may use the Keystone legislation to rein in the EPA, there’s some risk in that strategy of attacking the EPA, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said in an interview on KCUR public radio in Kansas City. She said amendments that would cripple the EPA might cost some bipartisan support for the underlying Keystone bill.

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