Senate GOP prods Obama on Keystone

Senate Republicans are threatening a showdown on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline that could derail an energy efficiency bill for the second year in a row.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) on Tuesday said a previous offer he made to secure a hearing on the pipeline would no longer be enough to keep the GOP from offering an amendment to the energy bill that would seek approval of the project.

He said Republicans would push the pipeline amendment unless President Obama sets a date for a final decision on whether the project can move forward or if Senate leadership agrees to a separate, stand-alone vote on Keystone.

“For us to hold off, we’d need something. And it’s not just my sense; it’s really the sense of my colleagues. Every single member of my conference has voted for this and will again,” Hoeven told reporters after a Washington event hosted by The Hill and the American Petroleum Institute.

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Hoeven told reporters earlier this month that he'd discussed a potential hearing on the pipeline with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). That, he suggested, would be enough to ward off a Keystone amendment to comprehensive energy efficiency legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

But Hoeven said his GOP colleagues rejected that offer.

“In my conference, we talked about that, and people feel that, look, this has been discussed and discussed, and we really need to find a way to press it,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to call up a version of the energy efficiency bill in the last Congress because Republican lawmakers were poised to attach controversial amendments, including on the Keystone project and the Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas regulations.

A push for the Keystone amendment could again prevent the efficiency bill from moving despite the bipartisan support it enjoys.

For his part, Reid has said he expects another Keystone-related vote will come, possibly on the Shaheen-Portman bill.

The looming decision on the pipeline, which would stretch from Canada to Texas, has been the subject of an intense lobbying and political battle. While a majority of both chambers endorse the project, some of Obama’s allies bitterly oppose it.

Republicans and centrist Democrats, along with industry and some labor groups, tout it as an avenue for jobs and a way to bolster energy security. Liberal Democrats and green groups want Obama to nix it, saying it would contribute more greenhouse gas emissions.

Hoeven said an earlier conversation with Obama led him to believe a decision was coming by the end of August. But the current timeline for the State Department, which is reviewing the project, puts the final say at the end of the year.

Keystone’s boosters see Shaheen-Portman, which has a tentative floor date next week, as a way to force action.

“It hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that there’s a bill that’s germane coming to the floor of the Senate,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said at the event.

The legislation would authorize an array of energy efficiency provisions affecting residential buildings, manufacturers and the federal government. It would give the Senate the chance to pass its first substantive energy bill since 2007.

Shaheen and Portman are still trying to work out an agreement on amendments ahead of the anticipated floor debate. Shaheen told reporters last week that it could be a while before that happens, if it happens at all.

Heitkamp said she understands the work Shaheen and Portman are putting into the bill but said Keystone’s backers will seek the opportunity to push the issue.

“I think there’s hope by the sponsors there that maybe they won’t have contentious issues. But there also is a growing impatience with this administration,” she said.