By LAURA LITVAN
Keystone XL supporters are falling short in their efforts to
round up the Democratic votes in the Senate to bypass the White
House and approve the Canada-to-U.S. oil pipeline.
A bipartisan bill was introduced yesterday that would
circumvent President Barack Obama by issuing a permit allowing
construction. The move came after
his administration delayed a decision on the $5.4 billion project, possibly into next year,
citing a legal challenge to the route it would take through
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who
opposes the pipeline, told reporters yesterday that there is a
75 to 80% chance that a vote on a stand-alone
Keystone bill will be allowed.
That might seem like good news for pipeline supporters, but
Democratic leaders are convinced they could defeat a binding
measure to force a permit for the pipeline, said a Democratic
leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. The
pipeline is opposed by environmentalists, a core
constituency of the party.
The legislations authors -- Republican Senator John
Hoeven of North Dakota and Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of
Louisiana -- said they have 56 supporters -- four shy of
whats needed to end delaying tactics by opponents and
make the vote anything more than an election-year gambit
putting supporters on record for voters back home.
Hoeven said all 45 Senate Republicans, along with 11 Democrats,
support his legislation, and now he and Landrieu have six
or seven Democrats in their sights, but dont yet
have any takers. The bill is S.2280.
The targets are Democrats who in March 2013 joined Republicans
to pass a nonbinding resolution backing the pipeline with 62
A year earlier, a binding amendment pushed by Hoeven to approve
the project over Obamas opposition got 56 votes -- the
same number who have signed onto his new bill. The legislation
recognizes the State Departments final Environmental
Impact Statement released in January that concluded the
pipelines construction would have no
significant impact on the environment, and approves the
The six Democrats who backed the project when it didnt
force Obamas hand are Tim Johnson of South Dakota,
Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of
Delaware, Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner of Virginia.
The president is undecided, Johnson said in an
interview, adding that he has no intention of going against
Obama on binding legislation.
Bennet and Carper said theyre still considering how they
will vote this time, although Carper noted recently that voters
his state are divided over whether the project should go forward.
Nelson probably wont support it, his spokesman said,
because he only wants the pipeline to be built after its
clear that all the U.S. states along its route all support it.
I believe Senator Nelson will vote no because
state concerns about the route are still unresolved,
Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown said.
Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado -- who has
said there is a legitimate argument that the
pipeline is in the national interest -- doesnt think
Congress should intervene right now, said his spokesman, Mike
He believes the review process needs to continue without
Congress injecting politics into the process, Saccone
Calgary-based TransCanada Corp.s proposed pipeline would
link Canadas oil sands with refineries on the U.S. Gulf
coast, but the fight over its approval is in its sixth year and
comes as the administration is under pressure from environmentalists who say the
project would boost greenhouse-gas emissions. Backers say it would
create jobs and promote North American energy independence.
The State Department, which is leading an inter-agency review
of the pipeline proposal, had asked other agencies to file
comments on the play by early this month. On April 18, it
announced it would extend that deadline until a legal challenge
to the route through Nebraska is settled by the state Supreme
Court. That probably extends consideration into 2015.
The Republican-led House has passed measures approving the
project with substantial majorities, but even if Senate
advocates succeed in winning a Keystone vote and it cleared
Congress, Obama could still veto a bill. That would require 67
Senate votes to override -- far more than supporters have
Jim Manley, a former top aide to Reid, said any votes
real impact will be to allow a handful Democrats in close
Senate races a chance to publicly split with Obama over a
pipeline that is popular back home. Landrieu, Mark Pryor of
Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay Hagan of North Carolina
all support Keystone and are at risk of losing their seats in
states that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won in
Its going to allow a number of Democrats up for re-
election to provide tangible evidence of their distance from
the president, Manley said in an interview. The
administration may not like that, but thats a fact.
Still, the administration is pressuring other Democrats not to
join in, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney calling on
the Senate to stay out of the process.
What weve seen in the past, when Congress has
passed legislation, it has actually slowed the process
down, Carney said on April 30. So we believe that
this has to be run by the book outside of politics, and
thats the way its being run.
Keystone opponents yesterday dismissed the push in Congress as
a political stunt thats more show than substance.
Its like a prairie chicken -- once you get past the
puffed up feathers, theres not a whole lot underneath
there, Randy Thompson, a Nebraska rancher who oppose the
pipeline, told reporters on a conference call to discuss the
court case that has delayed the project.
David Domina, an Omaha-based attorney who brought the case,
said he thinks the president has the exclusive authority to
approve the project and set terms for its construction. Passage of the Senate
measure could actually delay a decision by sparking another
legal challenge, he said. Hoeven and other pipeline advocates,
however, point to a Congressional Research Service report that
concluded Congress did have authority to intervene.
--With assistance from Jim Snyder, James Rowley, Kathleen
Hunter and Michael C. Bender in Washington.