Senate to Vote on Keystone Pipeline Today

Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:31am

Senate leaders reached an agreement late Wednesday evening to finish work on a transportation bill, but final passage is likely to slip into next week.

The agreement, announced by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on the Senate floor, includes votes on 30 amendments, including two on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The Senate is expected to vote on the first 10 or so amendments today and then resume voting Tuesday.

Among the amendments expected to be considered today is a proposal from Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to approve the pipeline, but passage will require a filibuster-proof 60 votes.

A provision was included in a short-term deal extending the pay roll tax cut at the end of last year requiring the White House to make a decision on pipeline approval by the end of February. The White House rejected the project because it said the deadline to decide did not provide enough time to adequately review of the project. But the White House invited TransCanada, the firm building the project to reapply. The White House recently announced that TransCanada would begin building part of the pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas while it reapplies for the international border permit from Canada into the U.S.

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. The legislation would allow TransCanada to move forward with construction of the pipeline while the state of Nebraska works to determine an alternate route.

Hoeven has secured an opinion from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service confirming Congress’s constitutional authority to approve the project.

Democrats, however, will offer a competing Keystone proposal from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). His amendment would require that the pipeline permit application be approved or denied within 90 days of the completion of all analyses required by current law and executive orders. The proposal, which will also require 60 votes for passage, would also require that all construction materials be made in the U.S. and it would ban companies from exporting Keystone oil. One the reasons TransCanada wants to build the pipeline is to export oil from Texas ports.

Other amendments include a proposal from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) delay Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding boiler emissions for 15 months. The delay is needed, supporters argue, in order to give EPA the time to rewrite the rules and provide additional time for the facilities to comply once the rules are finalized.

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

Earlier this week, Reid sought to close debate on the bill but was blocked by a GOP-led filibuster. Republicans have been agitating to have amendment votes and the agreement reached Wednesday night is expected to smooth passage of the bill next week.