Senate GOP pushes for Keystone vote on highway measure

Senate Republicans want to add an amendment to the highway bill that would mandate construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

GOP lawmakers backing the controversial oil pipeline plan to file an amendment mandating the project to the Senate transportation package Monday. It is unclear whether the Keystone measure  —one of scores of proposed additions to the highway package — will come up for a vote. 

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The Senate last week began debate on the big transportation program funding bill. 

The move underlines the GOP's determination to promote the pipeline and attack the Obama administration for rejecting a permit for developer TransCanada Corp. in January. Republicans in both chambers, along with the GOP candidates for president, have consistently bashed President Obama for his decision to reject the pipeline, which they argue will cost the country jobs.

Keystone XL would bring oil from Alberta’s massive tar sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries. It’s also envisioned to carry oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana, where production is booming.

Pipeline backers — including most Republicans, some Democrats, major business groups and several unions — call the project a way to create jobs and boost energy security. 

But critics say it’s a bad idea, citing greenhouse gas emissions and other damage from Alberta’s tar sands projects, fears of spills along the route and other concerns. The project faces bitter opposition from environmentalists and liberal Democrats.

Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and David Vitter (R-La.) plan to file an amendment that mirrors their recent proposal to allow Congress to require a permit for the project, although the legislation would still need Obama’s signature.

In the House, Republicans also plan to attach provisions mandating Keystone’s approval to their chamber’s transportation and infrastructure package that’s on the floor this week. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week approved Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-Neb.) bill, which differs somewhat from the Senate plan by directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a permit.

However, lawmakers led by Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) have introduced companion legislation to the Senate plan.

A coalition of groups is announcing an effort Monday to flood the Senate with 500,000 email messages over the next 24 hours urging lawmakers to oppose efforts to require a permit for the pipeline.

Forcing Keystone's approval faces long odds in the Senate, and lacks support from the White House, which says more review is needed. But Republicans are keen to continue pushing Keystone as a political messaging vehicle.

“We’re going to keep coming back at it with different versions, but I think probably the only way we’re going to get the Keystone pipeline started is to defeat Barack Obama,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the conservative publication Human Events earlier in February.