Senate panel votes to approve Keystone

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The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted Wednesday to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, delivering a rebuke to President Obama.

All Republicans on the panel voted to clear the pipeline, joined by Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (La.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), two Democrats in energy-heavy states, in a 12-10 vote.

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Proponents of the pipeline expressed frustration with Obama’s refusal to take action for more than five years on the final leg of Keystone, which is planned to run from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the United States Gulf Coast.

“I really wish we weren’t sitting here years after a decision should have been made by this administration,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the committee’s top Republican. “When the administration delays or subverts the process, there is a role for Congress.”

“The reality is that if this project’s going to get approved, Congress is going to have to do it,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), one of the bill’s sponsors.

While strongly supportive of the bill, some Republicans though expressed concerns that their vote would have little effect on the pipeline’s fate.

“With all due respect, this vote seems more like a cheerleading exercise than a meaningful effort to get Keystone built,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Landrieu.

A previous bill sponsored by Hoeven has been on the Senate calendar since the beginning of May, but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has yet to bring it up for a vote, Barrasso said.

“He won’t do it, because he opposes the pipeline,” he said. “The president opposes the pipeline. They’ve done everything in their power to stop it.”

Landrieu dismissed those remarks. “It’s very disappointing that you would direct your remarks at politics and not the policy before this committee,” she said.

She and Murkowski urged the bill’s proponents to pressure Reid to bring it to the floor.

Murkowski said she hoped supporters “will work with us to get Sen. Reid to take up this bill, take it up promptly, so that it can be fully considered in an open way.”

The House has previously voted to approve the pipeline, though the bill passed by the committee Wednesday differs slightly over environmental requirements and a possible court review.

The House would have to take up the Senate’s bill if it is passed, Landrieu said.

She also turned senators’ attention to the Baiji refinery in Iraq, the country’s biggest, following reports that it was captured by Islamic militants.

That refinery supplied about 350 million barrels of oil per year to the United States, out of the about 8.5 million barrels the United States imports daily.

“It is clear that our current situation exposes us to the political instability of these regions,” Landrieu said.

— This story was update at 2:53 p.m.