The Keystone Pipeline Is Ruining Mark Udall’s Week

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Mark Udall during a Q&A session on April 20, 2010.
National Journal
Jason Plautz
May 5, 2014, 5:28 p.m.

The Key­stone XL pipeline wouldn’t run through Col­or­ado, but it’s about to take cen­ter stage in the state’s polit­ics.

The Sen­ate is near cer­tain to vote this week on le­gis­la­tion that would ap­prove the oil-sands pipeline, and that’s leav­ing Sen. Mark Ud­all — a Demo­crat fa­cing a tough reelec­tion chal­lenge — with an un­en­vi­able choice to make.

Ud­all told the Den­ver Post Monday that he’ll vote against the pipeline bill, con­sist­ent with his pre­vi­ous votes. But that’s not stop­ping either side from lob­by­ing for his at­ten­tion and try­ing to force his hand.

If Ud­all votes yes, he’ll an­ger a lib­er­al base that has put block­ing the pipeline at the head of its en­vir­on­ment­al charge. But if he votes no, his op­pon­ent prom­ises to use it as fod­der for paint­ing the Demo­crat as too lib­er­al for a mod­er­ate state. 

And neither fac­tion is mak­ing its case quietly.

The anti-Key­stone group 350.org will hold a protest out­side of Ud­all’s of­fice Tues­day, one of sev­er­al protests across the coun­try on the pipeline. Jason Kow­al­ski, the group’s policy dir­ect­or, said the at­ten­tion on Ud­all’s race makes it a nat­ur­al place to be­gin the grass­roots march be­fore head­ing to the of­fice of Sen. Mi­chael Ben­net, an­oth­er Col­or­ado Demo­crat.

On the oth­er side, the Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute will run ads in Col­or­ado and four oth­er states lob­by­ing for the pipeline.

Ud­all was a “no” the last time the Sen­ate weighed in on Key­stone, a pipeline that would take car­bon-in­tens­ive Ca­na­dian tar sands from Al­berta to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies. But ana­lysts on both sides of the aisle say that he re­mains wishy-washy on the is­sue, and his de­cision on the latest meas­ure is closely watched.

The ex­pec­ted vehicle, a bill from Sens. John Ho­even, R-N.D., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., had 56 co­spon­sors — in­clud­ing all Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans — last week, leav­ing sup­port­ers search­ing for four more Demo­crats that could tip them past the 60-vote threshold.

The Key­stone bill could come as a stan­dalone or as an amend­ment to the Shaheen-Port­man en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill. In­stead, he has said re­peatedly that he be­lieves the de­cision is up to the ad­min­is­tra­tion. That po­s­i­tion seem­ingly puts him against the latest ap­prov­al bill, but it also leaves him plenty of wiggle room.

That room closes this week, when Ud­all faces the bin­ary yes-or-no vote.

And therein lies an open­ing for Ud­all’s chal­lenger, Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Cory Gard­ner.

Gard­ner has re­peatedly called on Ud­all to cla­ri­fy his po­s­i­tion, say­ing that a no vote for the Sen­ate le­gis­la­tion func­tions as a vote against the pipeline. In a state­ment last month, Gard­ner blas­ted Ud­all for his “de­cision to sit on the side­lines as Amer­ica comes closer and closer to los­ing a pro­ject that would cre­ate thou­sands of jobs and help bol­ster eco­nom­ic growth.”

Ud­all is not the only Demo­crat who would have an easi­er week were the Sen­ate to go Key­stone-free, with Ben­net also in the spot­light. Ben­net voted yes on the non­bind­ing res­ol­u­tion that was at­tached to the fed­er­al budget in the fall, but hasn’t backed the latest meas­ure.

Among the oth­er Demo­crats con­sidered pos­sible gets are Sens. Thomas Carp­er and Chris­toph­er Coons of Delaware, Robert Ca­sey of Pennsylvania, Tim John­son of South Dakota, and Bill Nel­son of Flor­ida. But with John­son say­ing Monday that he’ll vote no and Coons and Nel­son also re­portedly out, it ap­pears the mo­tion will fall short.

Up­dated with new in­form­a­tion from Ud­all’s of­fice.

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