Senate Rejects Two Keystone Pipeline Proposals

Posted March 8, 2012 at 3:26pm

Updated: 5:21 p.m.

The Senate rejected competing partisan proposals to expedite approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.

The GOP proposal, offered by Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.), would have granted approval of the pipeline and would not require any further environmental reviews by the State Department. The amendment, offered to the Senate surface transportation bill, needed 60 votes to pass but failed 56-42. Eleven Democrats joined the Republicans voting for the amendment.

A Democratic alternative from Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) failed 34-64, with 13 Democrats voting with Republicans against the amendment.

Wyden’s amendment would have required the pipeline permit application to be approved or denied within 90 days of the completion of all analyses required by current law and executive orders. The Wyden proposal would also have mandated that all project construction materials be made in the U.S., and it would have banned companies from exporting oil from the pipeline. One of the key purposes of the pipeline is to allow TransCanada to export the oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to other countries.

Last year’s short-term deal to extend the payroll tax cut required the White House to make a decision on approval of the pipeline by the end of February. President Barack Obama rejected the project because he said the deadline to did not provide enough time to adequately review it. The White House recently announced that TransCanada would start building part of the pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas, and said it welcomed the company’s intention to reapply for the Canada-U.S. border permit.

The pipeline would transport an additional 830,000 barrels of oil per day to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast, including 100,000 barrels a day from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, supporters argue.

In his quest to overturn the president’s February decision, Hoeven secured an opinion from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service confirming Congress’s constitutional authority to approve the project.

Democrats who joined Hoeven in supporting the amendment primarily hailed from states with robust energy industries. They were Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Bob Casey (Pa.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Jim Webb (Va.).

Obama made calls to several lawmakers in order to ensure the Hoeven amendment would be defeated, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed today.

House and Senate Republicans charged that the president’s lobbying blitz would have the effect of killing the jobs that would be created by the pipeline construction project. They also accused him of undermining his own “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

But Carney said the White House has made clear its position on the “purely ideological and political efforts to attach legislation regarding the Keystone pipeline to whatever some Members of Congress fancy at the time. … It is false advertising to suggest that somehow passing legislation and having it made law that Keystone ought to be approved is somehow A) going to have any impact on the price of gas at the pump … or B) is responsible policy in any way when there isn’t even a proposed route for that pipeline to travel.”

The Senate also defeated an amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would have delayed for 15 months Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding industrial boiler emissions. The delay is needed, supporters argued, in order to give the EPA time to rewrite the rules and to provide additional time for the facilities to comply after the rules are finalized. The amendment needed 60 votes to pass but failed 52-46.

A proposal from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), which was defeated 44-54, would have increased oil and gas development by allowing the sale of leases throughout the Outer Continental Shelf, including off the coasts of Florida, California and Virginia.

Correction: March 8, 2012

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 11 Democrats voted against the Hoeven amendment.