WASHINGTON—The United States Senate is expected to vote Nov. 18 on the Keystone XL pipeline, the latest chapter in a drawn-out political dogfight that has dragged on for years.
Pipeline supporters need 60 votes to avoid prolonged filibustering on the bill, and they’re closer than they’ve ever been—but it’s not clear that they have the numbers.
The pipeline was approved last week for the ninth time by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, but it faces a tougher test in the Senate, which is still controlled by Democrats until a new session begins next year.
A tougher hurdle still will be the desk of U.S. President Barack Obama, who is widely expected to veto the legislation, which would essentially short-circuit the White House’s own environmental review process.
Keystone XL, a political football almost since its inception six years ago, would transport bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Politics suggest the vote will be anything but definitive.
A Nebraska court decision on the pipeline route is expected in the new year and the administration says it won’t release its regulatory review until after the verdict is in.
Those developments and a new Congress will open the way for a final round of political horse-trading.
The main reason the issue is even before the lame duck Senate is that Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu needs an issue to help her stave off an expected defeat in a December run-off election in the oil-refining state of Louisiana.
Allowing the bill to pass would also starve Obama of valuable leverage he might prefer using in two months.
Getting a green light for Keystone XL is widely expected to be among the biggest policy priorities of next year’s Republican-dominated Senate.
If Obama is inclined to approve the project, he might prefer to wait until the new year, when he could extract political concessions from the Senate in exchange for allowing the bill to proceed.
In a statement released by the company, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said he was “pleased” to see the House of Representatives vote in favour of the project, and called for the Senate to help “break the gridlock, approve Keystone XL and unlock its benefits for America.”
“This project is truly in the national interest of America,” Girling said, noting reports that have claimed Keystone XL would create 42,000 direct and indirect jobs while contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).
“It is disappointing that since 2008, almost 10,000 miles of oil pipelines have been constructed in the United States—the equivalent of eight Keystone XL pipelines—and yet our project sits idle, all while the U.S. continues to import over seven million barrels of oil from unstable countries that do not share American values,” he continued.
“It makes no sense to receive oil from the Middle East and Venezuela and not from a friendly neighbour in Canada.”
Girling said the regulatory process “has been hijacked by those who believe if they can delay or prevent the Keystone XL pipeline, oil production and refining will be controlled,” while global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be reduced.
He called that “a naïve, inaccurate and unrealistic conclusion.”
“After 2,200 days and five environmental reviews totaling 17,000 pages it is time to move this project forward as it has passed the environmental GHG test,” he said.
“All reviews concluded Keystone XL would have minimal impact on the environment. The scientific conclusions are clear—more delays will not change that.”
—With files from Canadian Manufacturing Staff