By Laura Barron-Lopez - 05/13/14 10:25 AM EDT
The Senate’s inability to move forward with an energy efficiency bill on Monday has likely killed any chance of an upper chamber vote on constructing the Keystone XL pipeline this year.
The failure to reach a deal pushes the issue firmly back into the hands of the administration, which is unlikely to make a decision until at least the end of the year.
As a result, the Senate standoff left green groups confident that Keystone would not be approved this year, and that it was dead for the rest of the Obama era.
“Keystone is not going to become law under this president,” Daniel. J Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told The Hill on Monday.
Even supporters of Keystone acknowledged Monday’s vote was a blow.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said the failure to attach a Keystone amendment to the efficiency bill “makes it tougher” to get a deal, especially in an election year.
"We can't say what the chances will be for a vote, but we will continue to work with lawmakers to approve KXL,” spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute (API) Sabrina Fang said on Monday.
“American voters are paying attention to Washington’s lack of action when it comes to this nation’s energy and economic security,” API said in an email. “Elected officials who refuse to support vital infrastructure projects like KXL are turning their backs on the middle class.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had offered to allow a binding stand-vote on Keystone if Senate Republicans allowed a final vote on the energy efficiency bill. Most Republicans refused to support ending debate because Reid would not allow votes on other GOP amendments.
The 55-36 vote fell five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome procedural hurdles and move to a final vote.
Even if the vote had succeeded, Keystone faced obstacles.
It was not clear that supporters would have the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to overcome procedural hurdles. And they clearly didn’t have the votes to overcome a President Obama veto.
But a Senate vote would put pressure on Obama while allowing vulnerable Democrats who back Keystone, such as Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), to publicly highlight their support.
She blamed Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for the standoff.
“We could be right at 60 if Mitch McConnell will accept yes for an answer and allow a [stand-alone] vote on Keystone,” she told The Hill on Monday.
It’s possible something could be done on Keystone in the lame-duck session of Congress.
Hoeven and Landrieu split on which form a Keystone XL vote should take, but they both indicated that the best way forward for it would be to connect a vote to the energy efficiency bill in some way.
While the administration has repeatedly said delays in a decision are about process, not politics, green groups have said a decision to move forward with the pipeline would depress voter turnout for Democrats this fall.
That arguably made putting off a decision the safest politics for the administration.
After the midterms, the calculations could change.
If Republicans win back a majority in the Senate, Hoeven said he was confident that the Senate would not only pass Keystone, but legislation to increase natural gas exports.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, however, said it doesn't see a scenario in which the administration gets ahead of litigation in Nebraska, which isn't expected to wrap up until early 2015.
As for the Senate's shot at voting at Keystone, the green group thinks it's long gone.
“It's unlikely they will get another bite at the apple and this moves the process back to the administration where it should be,” said Anthony Swift, an attorney for the environmental group.