Energy & Environment

Democrats plan tough votes for GOP on Keystone pipeline bill

Getty Images

Democrats are poised to make Republicans cast a series of tough votes on legislation approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the GOP hopes to send to President Obama’s desk soon.

Obama has vowed to veto the bill, and Democrats do not appear to have the votes to kill the legislation in the Senate as they have repeatedly done in the past.

{mosads}Instead, Senate Democrats opposed to the pipeline are offering amendments that they think will be tough for the GOP to vote against or that will play well in the 2016 elections.

In offering the measures, they think they can take advantage of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) pledge to run the Senate differently from Democrats by allowing members of both parties to offer amendments more freely.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, plans to offer a nonbinding resolution on whether lawmakers agree with the 95 percent of scientists who say human activities contribute to climate change. 

“There are lots of things that members of the Senate can disagree about, but I think we should not be disagreeing about what the scientific community tells us,” Sanders said in a brief interview with The Hill.

He said the scientific community is “virtually unanimous” in its opinion that greenhouse gasses produced by industry are warming the climate and causing “irreparable damage.”

“I am going to offer an amendment which will allow Republicans to tell the American people whether or not they agree,” he said.

Another promised amendment would require companies transporting crude oil through the Keystone pipeline to pay into an oil spill cleanup fund. And Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey (D) is expected to offer a measure that would ban the export of any oil shipped through the pipeline. 

Both measures could be difficult for lawmakers to oppose, regardless of party.

Consideration of the amendments is expected to begin Tuesday after the Senate voted to advance the Keystone legislation on Monday in a 63-32 procedural vote. 

McConnell on Monday repeated his pledge to allow Democrats to offer their amendments as part of an open process.

“I know senators from both sides are hungry for a real Senate debate. I know they want to offer amendments. I know they’re anxious to finally have their voices — and the voices of the people they represent — heard,” said McConnell, who took over the reins from Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as majority leader last week.

Republicans have argued that Democrats did not allow senators to freely debate measures and offer amendments when they held the majority.

McConnell’s office has also said that members in both parties will be allowed to offer amendments even if they are not related to Keystone.

“Senate rules (except on rare occasions) don’t require an amendment be germane,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told The Hill in an email.

While Republicans don’t plan on shying away from Sanders’s amendment, they could offer one of their own that acts to counter it.

A possible measure could say that the pipeline is beneficial to the U.S. and helps curb greenhouse emissions, a GOP aide said.

In a letter to the Democratic conference early last week, Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Vice Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) called on Democrats to test the new Republican majority on its promise to hold an open amendment process for the Keystone bill.

“Consideration of this bill will provide us with the first opportunity to demonstrate that we will be united, energetic, and effective in offering amendments,” the letter stated. 

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) will propose the amendment aimed at oil companies, arguing they should have to pay if there is a spill. 

“Why are we giving a sweetheart deal to some company so that they don’t have to follow the rules?” Cantwell said during a committee hearing last week on the bill, referring to Keystone developer TransCanada.

Between six and nine Democratic senators are expected to back the Keystone bill, but the overwhelming majority of Democrats, including Sanders and Cantwell, oppose it.

Republicans are expected to offer up amendments of their own. 

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) plans to propose various provisions from his larger energy efficiency bill with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he will propose an amendment that lifts the decades-old ban on crude oil exports to the Keystone bill. 

“We need to follow through with a big, bold positive agenda to help get Americans back to work,” Cruz said.

McConnell’s office said it would have a better idea of additional Republican amendments after Monday’s cloture vote. 

“Moving forward, what I would urge is for our Democrat friends to work with us as the new Republican majority continues to bring more openness to the Senate,” McConnell said. 

“The changes we’re making are ones many Democrats have indicated they’d like to see. They reforms we’re implementing would give a real voice to the constituents of Democrat senators.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Debbie Stabenow Ed Markey Harry Reid Jeanne Shaheen Maria Cantwell Mitch McConnell Rob Portman Ted Cruz
See all Hill.TV See all Video