Although Senate support for a measure that would mandate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been growing, the majority of National Journal’s Energy & Environment Insiders say the proposal is doomed to fail for the third time.
Nearly 80 percent of Insiders surveyed said that Senate Republicans will not be able to get enough Democrats on board to pass the Keystone pipeline measure as part of the pending transportation funding legislation.
Although 58 senators previously supported an amendment from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., for the pipeline’s approval and Republicans have said the measure is gaining momentum, Insiders predict that few lawmakers will want to hold up the transportation bill over the controversial project. Moreover, Insiders said, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will find a way to make sure enough Democrats oppose the amendment to circumvent its inclusion.
“Senator Reid will surely peel off enough Democratic votes to avoid a potential embarrassment for President Obama,” said one Insider.
Obama denied a permit for the project earlier this year. Having Congress mandate its approval would certainly put the administration—and congressional Democrats—in an uncomfortable position.
“Senate Democrats will want to get there—the President will not allow them to do so. He has made his bed on this, and, despite the reality of the politics and public will being on the other side, he can’t allow his party to walk away from him,” said another Insider.
One Insider contended that at this point, most people probably assume the pipeline will move forward after the November election, when politics will be taken out of the equation.
Obama has given the nod to construction of the southern portion of the pipeline. Also, in the last month, the state of Nebraska signed off on reviewing a new route, and TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline, has proposed such a route.
“Don’t we all think this gets approved after the election, regardless of who wins?” that Insider asked, noting that there is no need for Congress to push it forward.
However, 21 percent of Insiders said the measure might just get the support it needs now, arguing that “Republicans love Keystone more than Democrats hate it,” and if it comes down to being the only obstacle to passing the highway bill, it will go through.
In addition, Insiders argued that Democrats would just love to get the issue out of the public eye, where it has lingered since last November. The Senate has voted on the project three times now, passing it once as part of the eleventh-hour payroll-tax deal in December and rejecting it twice this year.
Meanwhile, most Insiders — nearly 60 percent — agreed that despite the controversy surrounding the renomination of Republican Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Senate will indeed confirm her before her term expires on June 30, citing the political pressure surrounding her appointment.
Last week, the White House said that it would renominate the commissioner, defying the wishes of Reid, who had been pressuring the administration to hold her nomination back.
Whether Svinicki is confirmed will depend on how strongly Reid and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., oppose her, but Insiders are confident that she will be back for a second term on the commission.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week that the president wants to have a nominee in place so there are no NRC vacancies while the commission is addressing critical safety issues in the nuclear-power industry, and most Insiders agree that this will be the case.
“While sometimes slow, the Senate can often act best when under a deadline,” one Insider said.
Insiders noted that there will be a lot of pressure on Reid to bring Svinicki's confirmation vote to the floor so that there is no vacancy.
“This is a dangerous game for Reid to play,” an Insider said. “If she isn't confirmed, Reid will be vulnerable to claims that he's playing politics with nuclear safety. Plus, he doesn't want to draw any further attention to the mess his guy [NRC Chairman Gregory] Jaczko is in.”
Another, 29 percent of the Insiders polled predicted that Svinicki will be confirmed, but that it will happen after her term expires at the end of June. Another 12 percent of Insiders said they think she will not be confirmed at all.
Will Senate Republicans be able to get enough Democrats on board to pass the Keystone XL pipeline measure as part of the agreed-upon-in-conference transportation bill?
- Yes 21%
- No 79%
“Democrats want Keystone XL out of the media. The President is raising money off the issue, but Senate Democrats in vulnerable seats are getting hit.”
“I think that there are enough ‘all of the above, including pro-oil’ Democrats in the Senate.”
“The only way KXL can go is to be part of something bigger and more popular. There area handful of Democratic senators who are looking for a way to get to ‘yes’ and put this issue to bed before November.”
“There were 58 senators who supported the Hoeven amendment to approve the pipeline.Republicans love Keystone more than Democrats hate it. If Keystone is the only obstacle to getting a Highway bill, the Democrats will take it. It will be a huge relief for the president [and] will take the issue off the table for him.”
“While support for Keystone XL is strong among some Democrats, and should be, few will want to risk hanging up the transportation bill over it. Don’t we all think this gets approved after the election, regardless of who wins?”
“Like a Schticky on a wool coat, Senator Reid will surely peel of enough Democratic votes to avoid a potential embarrassment for President Obama.”
“Not this year. Too political and Reid will find way to block [it].”
“They already rejected this in the Senate. It has no business in the conference report.”
“Gas prices continue to creep higher, but Nebraska is making progress in siting the pipeline.”
“Senate Democrats will want to get there — the President will not allow them to do so. He has made his bed on this, and, despite the reality of the politics and public will being on the other side, he can’t allow his party to walk away from him.”
Will the Senate confirm the White House nomination of Republican Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the time her term expires on June 30?
- Yes, by June 30 59%
- No, but later 29%
- No 12%
Yes, by June 30
“Will have to, or else suffer political consequences in the battle for the women's vote.”
“There will be a lot of pressure on Reid to ensure she gets a confirmation vote before her current term expires.”
“The optics of opposing her are untenable, and anyone who does will be politically damaged when the second [inspector general's] report comes out.”
“Reid's best chance to stop her was by bottling her up at the White House. Now that she's been renominated, his caucus members will be split between loyalty to their Leader and protecting a chauvinistic bully.”
“Right now, there are more than 50 nominations sitting on the executive calendar. Some have remained on there since last summer. Republicans have said there should be no lapse in service for the NRC. Maybe, this standard should apply to other agency, judicial, and commission appointments as well. Time for a bipartisan deal?”
“When someone (in this instance the chairman) has a press conference to announce that he does not beat his female employees (any more), you know he is toast.”
No, but later
“When is the last time the Senate did anything on time?”
“Her only chance of confirmation by June 30 is as part of a global agreement on nominees — a package involving judges, which usually only occurs before a long recess — that could happen before Memorial Day or Fourth of July recess, but is more likely to occur after June 30. She could get a recess appointment if a package is not worked out by June 30.”
“Harry Reid won't let it happen [by] then, if ever.”
“The timing will depend on what is in the IG report that is in progress. If it upholds Commissioner Svinicki's account, then she will be confirmed.”
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Andrew J. Black, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, Pat Bousliman, Michael Bromwich, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Neil Chatterjee, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, David Di Martino, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, Tom Dower, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Fritz Hirst, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Con Lass, Mindy Lubber, Frank Maisano, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O’Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Thomas Pyle, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Linda Stuntz, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the April 26, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.