The Senate voted 63-32 Monday to debate a bill to approve the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, making an end run around President Obama’s executive authority to approve or reject projects that cross the international border.
The controversial $8 billion pipeline would carry tar sand oils from Alberta in western Canada through Indian country and American states to refineries in Texas, then on to Gulf Coast ports for shipping to world markets.
The Senate vote comes after the last week’s Republican-controlled House voted 266-153 to authorize the pipeline construction. The House vote fell short of the two-thirds needed to override Obama’s promised veto, which he said was in part due to a pending lawsuit in Nebraska. After the court ruled last Friday that the pipeline could go through the state, White House spokesman Eric Schulz said the veto will stand. "As we have made clear, we are going to let that process play out," he said. "Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests, and if presented to the president, he will veto the bill."
The Keystone proposal has polarized the Republicans and Democrats. Keystone has solid Republican support: 52 of the Senate’s 54 Republicans voted to move Keystone ahead. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Cassidy (R-La) didn’t vote, according to the Senate website’s Roll Call.
Cassidy bumped three-term incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu in a runoff election in early December, giving the Republicans their 54 seats – 10 more than they previously held – but Landrieu, a strong Keystone supporter, likely would have voted with the Republicans.
Ten Democrats and one independent voted with the Republicans: Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (De.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Udall (N.M.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
Even with support from 10 Democrats, the bill still falls short of the 67 votes needed to veto-proof it. But members on both sides of the aisle are preparing to unleash a flurry of politically sensitive energy amendments on issues such as crude oil exports and climate change, Politico reported. The amendments will clearly be aimed at increasing or cutting into Keystone’s Democratic support.
According to Politico, some of the proposals are:
—An amendment by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) requiring electric utilities to produce 25 percent of their power from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources by 2025.
—An amendment by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) to address petroleum coke, or petcoke. That byproduct of refining the heavy oil Keystone would carry sparked an outcry in his home state after locals raised public health and environmental concerns connected to petcoke storage facilities along the Detroit River.
—An amendment by Republican Ohio Sen. Rob Portman regarding energy efficiency.
—An amendment by Republican Sen. Cory Booker on Energy Savings Performance Contracts.
—Democrats are expected to offer amendments requiring producers of the oil transported by the Keystone pipeline to contribute to the federal oil spill liability trust fund, prohibiting the export of oil from the pipeline and boosting solar energy.