Vote in House to test support for Keystone pipeline among Democrats

The House will vote later Friday on a measure that tests the depth of Democratic support for including the Keystone XL oil pipeline in a final transportation program funding bill.

Rep. John Barrow (Ga.) — a conservative Democrat who is highly vulnerable in November’s election — is offering a motion to instruct his chamber’s negotiators to insist on including the pipeline in a compromise House-Senate bill.

The House version of the transportation package approved in April would grant a permit for the proposed pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, while the Senate version omits the provision.

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Friday’s motion, which is expected to pass, won’t tie the hands of negotiators in the House-Senate talks. But it’s nonetheless significant, because it will provide a snapshot of House support for the pipeline.

A spokeswoman for House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he’s not whipping the vote.

Sixty-nine House Democrats voted for their chamber’s transportation bill in April — a tally that Republicans cite frequently to claim substantial political support across the aisle for TransCanada Corp.’s proposed pipeline.

But some Democrats said they voted for the measure as a way to open House-Senate talks on reauthorizing popular transportation programs. Friday’s vote will provide a clearer picture of support for keeping the pipeline provision specifically.

Formal House-Senate conference committee talks have begun to craft a final bill. The current extension of transportation programs expires at the end of June.

Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, again predicted Friday morning that Keystone won’t be included in a final compromise bill, a forecast he also made Thursday.

He noted that the Senate turned back an amendment to approve Keystone when that chamber debated its transportation bill in March. And the White House has threatened to veto the House bill over Keystone.

“It is truly a non-starter,” he said on C-SPAN Friday.

Rahall supports the pipeline but said he would vote against Barrow’s motion, arguing the transportation programs create more jobs than the pipeline would.

“It has become a political football ... and it should not be on a transportation bill,” he said. “I don’t think this project should stand in the way of passing a transportation bill, and I would say the majority of the conferees feel that way, whether they have said it or not.”

Keystone is a top priority for many Republicans and the oil industry. Advocates call it a way to boost energy security and create jobs.

Environmentalists oppose the pipeline due to greenhouse gas emissions from extracting and using oil sands, ecological damage from the Canadian projects and other factors.

The White House has delayed a decision on a cross-border permit until well after the elections. Administration officials say they oppose bills to authorize construction because more review of the project is needed.