Keystone XL picks up Senate backing

The Senate on Friday voted 62-37 to approve the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline in an amendment to Senate budget.

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Sen. John Hoeven’s (R-N.D.) amendment was largely symbolic, but served as a clear statement that the Senate backs the pipeline.

"It puts the Senate on record in support of the Keystone pipeline project. And that's just appropriate," Hoeven said. "The Department of State has done four environmental impact statements over the last five years — four — and said there are no significant environmental impacts. And it's time that we in the Senate stepped up with the American people."

All Republicans voted in favor. The Democrats who supported the measure were Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.).



The Senate Democrats’ budget plan is non-binding, and reconciliation with the GOP House version is unlikely.


Hoeven has proposed separate legislation that would bypass President Obama’s authority to decide the Canada-to-Texas pipeline's fate. The White House has the final say because the project crosses an international border.

While that bill sits in the hopper, Hoeven's budget amendment Friday kept up the drumbeat on Keystone.

GOP lawmakers have made much noise about the pipeline. In meetings with Obama last week, House and Senate Republicans pressed the president for a timeline on his decision — about which Obama was vague.

They, along with some unions and industry groups, say the pipeline would create jobs. They also tout the benefits of getting oil from Canada, an ally.

Obama has been noncommittal on Keystone. According to some Senate Republicans present at last week’s confab, the president said his decision would come by year’s end.

On top of that, the president told the GOP their claims about Keystone’s job creation prospects were exaggerated. He also suggested a good amount of the oil sands were destined for export.

To that end, the Senate rejected Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) amendment that called for conducting more studies on Keystone while its application remains pending.

That amendment, which fell 33-66, aimed to answer questions of how much of Keystone's oil is intended for overseas markets and how much of the pipeline's steel would come from U.S. firms, among other things.

"It's not true that all the work has been done. We don't know how much of the steel will be American. We don't how many of the jobs will be American. We don't know if our national security people think that dirty tar sands is going to create climate disruption," Boxer said after her amendment fell, before the Senate took up Hoeven's measure.

All Republicans voted against Boxer's proposal. The Democrats joining them were Baucus, Begich, Carper, Casey, Coons, Donnelly, Hagan, Heitkamp, Johnson, Landrieu, Manchin, McCaskill, Pryor and Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), William Cowan (Mass.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Tom Udall (N.M.). Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) also voted against. 

Green groups have claimed a bulk of Keystone's crude would head overseas. They also say the jobs numbers floated by the pipeline's supporters are far too high.

Environmentalists' main contention, though, is that Keystone would accelerate production of Canada’s oil sands, a carbon-intensive fossil fuel. They say processing and burning oil sands would devastate the climate.

They're urging Obama to nix the pipeline. They say green-lighting it would run counter to the president’s desire to combat climate change.

But Republicans also said Obama told them last week that environmentalists’ fears of Keystone’s impact on the climate were overblown.

That hews closely to a recent State Department draft environmental review. 

That review dismissed greens' arguments that Keystone would ramp up oil sands development and significantly affect the climate.

Green groups are challenging the assessment, which is currently in the midst of a 45-day comment period.

— This story was updated at 6:45 p.m.