Senate to vote on Keystone oil pipeline

Under a deal to move forward with transportation legislation, the Senate will vote Thursday on measures to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline and delay a major Environmental Protection Agency air regulation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced the agreement Wednesday night in a floor speech. The agreement comes just days after the bill, which authorizes transportation spending for two years, failed to clear a key procedural hurdle in the Senate.

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The deal allows votes on 30 amendments, including a GOP leadership-backed measure to approve construction of the Keystone pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Senators will vote on a separate amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to block exports of oil brought into the country through the Keystone pipeline.

Both amendments require 60 votes for passage. Up to 10 amendment votes are expected Thursday. The remaining votes will take place Tuesday.

President Obama rejected a key permit for the Keystone pipeline in January. He said the decision was not based on the merits of the project, but on a 60-day, GOP-backed deadline included in a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut.

Republicans have nonetheless pummeled Obama for rejecting the pipeline, arguing he is turning his back on thousands of new jobs.

But many Democrats, along with Obama’s environmental base, strongly oppose the project, citing greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands production, along with the possibility of oil spills and other ecological damage along the pipeline route.

The GOP has also attacked President Obama in recent months over high gas prices, arguing that the administration has not done enough to expand domestic drilling. Republicans will continue hammering the White House on drilling during debate on an amendment authored by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that would dramatically expand offshore oil-and-gas leasing.

Separately, the transportation bill deal allows a vote on an amendment authored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to delay and soften EPA rules regulations aimed at curbing air pollution from industrial boilers. The measure also requires 60 votes for passage.

Republicans, industry groups and a handful of Democrats have launched an aggressive campaign to scuttle the regulations, arguing they will impose a major burden on the economy.

But clean air and public health groups note the rules are estimated to prevent thousands of deaths each year.

The transportation bill agreement allows votes on several other energy-related amendments, including measures to extend key renewable energy tax breaks, direct oil spill penalty money to the Gulf of Mexico and promote natural gas vehicles.