NEW ORLEANS – The US Senate has narrowly failed to pass a bill approving the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, falling short by one vote that would have pitted Congress’s approval of the environmentally disastrous project against President Obama’s skepticism, which many hope he would veto.
Ironically, the Senate vote is technically in favor of the bill to push through the Keystone pipeline, but the 59 votes in favor of it fell one vote short of the needed 60 vote threshold party leaders had agreed upon for final passage. Forty-one senators voted against it.
The fate of the pipeline represents a protracted clash over executive authority between Congress and the White House
Republicans, who overwhelmingly back the project, told US media the fight isn’t over. They plan to launch a plan prioritizing the pipeline when the newly elected Republican sweep takes control of the Senate chamber next year.
The $5.3-billion, 1,897 kilometer pipeline would carry some 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the US city of Steel City, Nebraska and then further to the coast of Texas for export, casting a cloud over what long term economic benefit the pipeline would hold for the United States when weighed against the consequences of a spill and raised CO2 emissions.
“The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a terrible deal for America. We get all the risks while the oil companies reap the rewards. But even if you support it, this bill is a harmful and unnecessary piece of legislation,” California Representative Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill, Washington’s Congressional newspaper, last week.
Tar sands oil is widely regarded in environmental communities as the most climactically dangerous form of hydrocarbons that can be brought to market, Dr Andrew Light of the Center for American Progress has told Bellona.
Environmental groups continue to hope for Obama’s eventual veto, arguing the president’s legacy on climate change hangs in the balance.
Obama’s ‘dim view but uncertain veto
President Obama is reported to take a “dim view” of the Keystone legislation, but has yet to issue direct threats to veto it if it reaches his desk in the 2015 Congressional term.
He has, however, recently made known his skepticism of the project in a recent press conference during a state visit to Burma.
“I have to constantly push back against the idea that Keystone is either a massive jobs bill for the U.S. or is somehow lowering gas prices,” Obama told a briefing. “Understand what the project is, it will provide the ability for Canada to pump their oil and send it through their land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else.”
Bellona President Frederic Hauge greeted the news of the Senate failure to pass the bill warmly, and predicted that Obama would eventually veto the project if it were pushed through by the next Senate.
“The current Senate’s vote against the project is another needed delay that gives people time to reevaluate the environmentally disastrous consequeces it would bring,” he said. “With every new delay, Keystone becomes a little bit more yesterday.”
The critical interim between the old and new Senates, said Hauge, will improve chance that political dialogue on Keystone’s baleful climate impacts will be taken into consideration.
“Even the Republicans, in the right setting, can be persuaded to see this,” he said.
Frances Beinecke, President of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has led the charge against Keystone, applauded the Senate decision and called on Obama to reject promised efforts to shove it through under the next Senate.
“The bill would have turned Congress into a permitting authority, overriding environmental law, and giving a green light to a pipeline project that would worsen climate change and threaten water quality,” said Beinecke in a statement.
“The Senate did the right thing to reject the misguided bill, and now the president should do the right thing and reject the pipeline,” she said.
The politics will roll on despite new hope
The pipeline project has pitted Republicans and other supporters – who say it will create much-needed jobs – against many Democrats and environmentalists who warn the pipeline will add to carbon emissions and contribute to global warming.
Republicans maintained their majority in the House and gained control of the US Senate during mid-term elections on 4 November. The new Congress will be officially seated in early January.
The bill failed to pass despite all 45 current Republican senators as well as 14 Democrats voting in favor, American media breakdowns of the vote indicate.
The bill passed easily in the House last week with a 252-161 vote, but it was not the first time the chamber had voted to approve the project.
A US State Department environmental review of Keystone XL concluded in February that it would likely have little effect on carbon emissions, but much peer-reviewed research has indicated the State Department low-balls emissions that would come of the project, said the Los Angeles Times.
The final recommendation by the State Departments – which is involved because the pipeline crosses international borders – was delayed amid a court battle over the project in Nebraska.
Louisiana politics getting down and dirty over XL
The bill is sponsored by Louisiana House Representative Bill Cassidy, who is vying for incumbent Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s seat in a heated run-off election to be held in the state on December 6.
Landrieu, a Democrat, has broken party ranks to support the bill and successfully pushed the Senate to hold the vote on Tuesday in a cow-towing play to Louisiana Republicans who see a jobs miracle in the pipeline.
According to Louisiana media, Landrieu’s gamble on the certainty Keystone’s passage may well backfire on her in the December polls.