In an amendment to the budget bill—the first fiscal plan it has approved in four years—the U.S. Senate on Friday voted 62–37 in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline project.
“The 17 Democrats who voted yes included every single possibly vulnerable incumbent facing reelection next year, from 34-year veteran [Max] Baucus [Mont.] to first-term Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska),” The Washington Post noted. The 45 Senate Republicans provided the rest of the yes votes.
This bipartisan amendment to the Senate budget resolution was introduced by North Dakota Republican John Hoeven and Montana Democrat Max Baucus. Hoeven is the one who introduced last year’s amendment to a federal highway bill that would have forced Obama to immediately approve the pipeline. That garnered just 56 of the necessary 60 votes and was thus defeated, with 42 against, according to the website ThinkProgress.org.
The goal of the March 22 amendment, according to an analysis by Reuters, is to pave the way for bills before both the Senate and the House that would give Keystone XL approval power to Congress.
“Last week, Hoeven and Montana Democrat Max Baucus introduced a bill that would give Congress the power to approve the pipeline, taking it away from the Obama administration,” Reuters reported on Friday March 22. “There is a similar bill in the House of Representatives, and both could be voted on later in the spring.”
Friday’s vote, although it carries no binding authority, shows that the support is there, Reuters said, and lays the foundation for future Congressional action. Hoeven told reporters as much on March 22 just before the Senate endorsed the 800,000-barrel-per-day, $7 billion pipeline proposed by energy giant TransCanada. Winning out is the notion that the project will generate jobs, which could help tip the balance given a recent report from the State Department downplaying the environmental implications.
The public comments period is still open until April 15, 2013, on the State Department’s draft environmental assessment. The report, begun under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was released under newly minted secretary John Kerry on March 1. All but noncommittal, it found that there would be little net effect on jobs, climate change or further development in the Alberta oil sands, the source of the rough crude that would be carried to refineries in Texas on the Gulf Coast. Opponents of the project, which include many tribes, say the report is riddled with inaccuracies and exaggerated claims of tribal consultation, and have urged tribal members to register their opinions.
At this time President Barack Obama has the final decision-making power on the pipeline, but he has been delaying it since before his reelection. The latest reports are that he is planning to issue a decision later this summer, according to Reuters. Federal approval is required because the pipeline crosses an international border.
“The Keystone decision still ultimately rests with President Obama, who appears to be dithering—and procrastinating like mad,” the environmental newsletter Grist wrote on March 23.
Meanwhile, Hoeven told Reuters that the Senate vote of support could "get [Obama] to approve it and if he doesn't, I think it will help us to get it done congressionally.”