Senate Votes Against Keystone XL Pipeline After Six-Year Fight

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The U.S. Senate refused to approve TransCanada Corp.’s $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline after years of a political fight over jobs, climate change and energy security.

The vote was 59-41 with 60 needed for passage in the Democratic-led chamber. “We’ll do it next year,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will become majority leader when Republicans take Senate control in January. He and House Speaker John Boehner say enactment of a Keystone measure is a top priority.

President Barack Obama has opposed legislation approving the Keystone project, saying it would bypass a review being conducted by the State Department. He didn’t say whether he would sign or veto the bill if it reached his desk.

Democratic Senate leaders refused for years to bring the measure to the floor until sponsor Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, convinced them that a vote may bolster her chances in a Dec. 6 runoff election. The Republican-led House of Representatives passed the measure last week.

Today’s vote allows Obama to avoid saying for now whether he would veto legislation approving the pipeline. Next year, when Republicans control the Senate, Keystone supporters will have an advantage though they may be short of the 67 votes needed to override a veto.

‘Worth Having’

Landrieu, speaking to reporters after the vote, said, “For jobs, for economic opportunity, for independence, for energy independence, this fight was worth having.”

Fourteen Democrats joined all 45 Senate Republicans in voting for the measure. Landrieu said she had been “relatively certain” that backers would find one more vote in favor of the bill.

Russ Girling, president and chief executive officer of Calgary-based TransCanada, noted what he called growing support for the project revealed in the votes in both chambers.

“We will continue to push for reason over gridlock, common sense over symbolism and solid science over rhetoric to approve Keystone XL and unlock its benefits for America,” Girling said in an e-mail.

Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who opposed the bill, S. 2280, said lawmakers “should be talking about not how to turn on the tap to the dirtiest oil on the planet, but how to meet the 2025 goals and how to create jobs by investing in energy conservation and renewable energy.”

‘Extremely Lethal’

Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the “XL” in the pipeline’s name stood for “extremely lethal.”

Landrieu, in a Dec. 6 runoff, faces Representative Bill Cassidy, sponsor of an identical bill approving Keystone that the House passed Nov. 14 on a bipartisan 252-161 vote. Landrieu, a three-term senator, was seeking a chance to showcase the influence she could wield in Washington.

TransCanada proposed Keystone in 2008. It would carry Canadian oil through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama last week disparaged supporters’ argument that the pipeline would be a major job producer and said the oil transported through the pipeline would end up being exported.

The pipeline allows Canada “to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the gulf where it will be sold everywhere else,” Obama said Nov. 14 during a visit to Myanmar.

Two Vetoes

Obama has vetoed two bills, both in 2010, fewer than any president since Abraham Lincoln, except for James A. Garfield, who only served six months before being assassinated.

Environmental groups say the pipeline would encourage development of carbon-heavy oil sands.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the bill would have given “a green light to a pipeline project that would worsen climate change and threaten water quality. The Senate did the right thing to reject the misguided bill.”

Supporters of the pipeline say it would create thousands of jobs and increase North American energy security.

‘Politics Out’

“The reality is we’re going to need more infrastructure in this country,” Jack Gerard, chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, said on Bloomberg Television today. “We need to get the government out of the way and get the politics out of the energy here.”

Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in a statement, “There have been no indications that the Obama administration will stop ignoring the vast majority of Americans that support the pipeline, but we do know that Keystone will have even stronger support in the next Congress.”

Obama has deflected efforts to force a decision on Keystone, saying a State Department review should be allowed to proceed. The department is studying the project because it crosses an international border. The agency has suspended its review until a Nebraska court challenge over the route’s path in that state is settled.

Polls have shown Cassidy running ahead of Landrieu. A Cassidy victory in the Louisiana race would bring to nine the net number of Democratic Senate seats captured by Republicans in the Nov. 4 election.

Political analysts had said in advance of the Senate vote that whatever the outcome, they didn’t think it would do much to boost Landrieu’s re-election prospects.

Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said Landrieu is in tough shape. He said in an interview, “I don’t think it fundamentally changes the dynamics of the race.”

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