The Keystone XL pipeline won a key vote in the Senate on Monday evening, clearing a path for a bill approving its construction to soon pass after six years of debate over the controversial proposal to ship Canadian crude oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Ten Democrats and an independent, Maine Sen. Angus King, joined 52 Republicans in voting to advance the bill Monday. The procedural vote required support of 60 of the 100 Senators, enough to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and is the farthest Keystone supporters have ever reached in the Senate. Next comes debate over amendments and expected final passage of the bill.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised to allow consideration of all amendments, and Democrats have plans to propose a series of amendments regarding oil exports and renewable energy, among other issues.
Despite Monday’s vote, though, that there is still not enough support for the pipeline to override President Barack Obama promised veto of the bill.
It would take a two-thirds vote to overcome Obama’s veto, which in the Senate would mean 67 votes.
Republicans said they hope to attract more Democratic votes through amendments to the bill before its final passage in the Senate. But Democratic leaders are confident there won’t be enough support to override a veto, no matter what Republicans offer.
The 1,179-mile Keystone XL is designed to ship as much as 830,000 barrels a day, mostly from the Canadian oil sands, to refineries in Texas. Tapping the thick Alberta crude produces more planet-warming gases than conventional sources of oil, and it’s harder to clean up when spilled.
An identical bill passed the House on Friday, but not with enough support to overcome a presidential veto.
The energy markets have changed in the six years since the pipeline was first proposed. Skyrocketing U.S. oil production helped to create a global supply glut and sent oil prices crashing. Energy companies, tired of waiting for Keystone to be approved, increasingly turned to rail to ship crude oil as an alternative. But the Keystone pipeline has remained a congressional obsession, a political line in the sand in the national debate over jobs, energy and the environment.
Senate backers of the pipeline said it would create thousands of construction jobs, lessen U.S. imports of Middle Eastern oil, and bolster ties with Canada. McConnell said it’s a “bipartisan jobs bill” and there’s no excuse for the president to block the pipeline.
“It may force the president to finally make a difficult choice, between jobs and the middle class versus the demands of powerful special interests,” McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor.
The White House said Obama will veto the Keystone bill because it would force approval of the pipeline before the State Department finishes a review of whether the project is in the national interest. Obama downplays the economic benefits of the pipeline, but has not said whether he would approve the project once the State Department completes its work.
Democrats blasted the bill in floor debate on Monday, saying the pipeline would create just 35 permanent jobs and worsen climate change.
“It’s a pipeline dedicated to increasing production of some of the dirtiest, most polluting and dangerous crude oil in the world,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
Democrats see the Keystone debate as a chance to show they can still be effective, even after losing control of the Senate in the November election.
“Consideration of this bill will provide us with the first opportunity to demonstrate that we will be united, energetic and effective in offering amendments that create a clear contrast with the Republican majority,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who lead the Democratic Policy and Communications Center, wrote in a letter to their Democratic colleagues.
The Democrats plan to offer amendments to require the use of American steel on the project, to ban the export of oil transported through the pipeline, and to promote renewable energy projects, among others. They are also planning to introduce a “sense of the Senate” amendment meant to put all senators on record about whether they believe human activity is causing climate change.
At lease one of the Democratic amendments is expected to pass. It would close a loophole that would allow companies shipping oil on the Keystone pipeline to avoid paying into the nation’s oil-spill clean up fund, which other companies are required to do. The loophole for oil sands crude is a result of an obscure IRS opinion, and members of both parties said they intend to close it.
King, the independent senator from Maine, said he voted to advance the Keystone bill Monday even though he opposes the pipeline. King said in a written statement that he did so because he wanted the measure to go for a full debate and amendments.
“The American people deserve to know the many reasons why this legislation is not in the best interest of our country,” he said.