The Senate Has a Filibuster-Proof Pro-Keystone XL Majority

President Obama’s veto may be the last hurdle for measures aimed at guaranteeing the pipeline’s approval.

Keystone Pipeline
National Journal
Clare Foran
Add to Briefcase
Clare Foran
Nov. 4, 2014, 8:24 p.m.

The Key­stone XL pipeline won big Tues­day night.

Fol­low­ing an elec­tion night that saw anti-Key­stone Demo­crats re­placed by pro-Key­stone Re­pub­lic­ans, the oil-sands pipeline pro­ject now ap­pears to have at least 60 sup­port­ing votes. That means le­gis­la­tion for­cing ap­prov­al of the long-delayed pro­ject may be headed to Pres­id­ent Obama. Be­fore the elec­tion, at least 57 sen­at­ors could be coun­ted on to sup­port pro-Key­stone le­gis­la­tion, but that was nev­er enough to beat a fili­buster from the pro­ject’s op­pon­ents.

Tues­day night’s res­ults ap­pear to change that.

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­gin­ia will re­place re­tir­ing Sen. Jay Rock­e­feller, a Demo­crat who has voted against the pipeline’s ap­prov­al. Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Cory Gard­ner de­feated Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Ud­all of Col­or­ado, who has also pre­vi­ously voted against the pro­ject. In Iowa’s Sen­ate race, Re­pub­lic­an Joni Ernst will take the seat pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by anti-Key­stone Demo­crat Tom Har­kin. And in South Dakota, Re­pub­lic­an Mike Rounds will take the seat of re­tir­ing Demo­crat­ic Sen. Tim John­son, who has wavered in his sup­port for le­gis­la­tion that would guar­an­tee the pro­ject’s ap­prov­al, say­ing the de­cision to ap­prove or deny the pro­ject should be left to the ad­min­is­tra­tion. 

And none of the 57 seats that were held by pro-Key­stone law­makers were sur­rendered to anti-pipeline new­comers.

Key­stone’s Sen­ate cham­pi­ons were watch­ing the whip count Tues­day and came away en­thused: “This really drives home the over­whelm­ing sup­port we have for Key­stone. I think you’re go­ing to see us bring up en­ergy le­gis­la­tion right away and Key­stone will be one of the first things we pass,” said Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Ho­even of North Dakota.

House Re­pub­lic­ans have all the votes they need to ap­prove pro-Key­stone meas­ures and in­deed did so on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions last Con­gress. So in the Con­gress to come, it ap­pears that—ab­sent a change of heart or un­ex­pec­ted Sen­ate exit from one of the pro­ject’s sup­port­ers—the last hurdle to Key­stone le­gis­la­tion is a veto from Obama.

The White House has pre­vi­ously threatened to veto le­gis­la­tion passed by the Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled House to ap­prove Key­stone. In 2013, the pres­id­ent threatened to turn back a House bill that would have green-lit the pro­ject—ar­guing it in­terfered with what should be an ad­min­is­trat­ive de­cision—but that meas­ure died in the Sen­ate.

The pipeline’s fate has long sat with Obama’s State De­part­ment, which has au­thor­ity over the pro­ject due to its in­ter­na­tion­al rami­fic­a­tions (the pipeline would con­nect Ca­na­dian oil sands with U.S. re­finers and con­sumers). The pres­id­ent has said he will only ap­prove Key­stone XL if it does not sig­ni­fic­antly add to car­bon emis­sions in the at­mo­sphere. A State De­part­ment re­view of the pro­ject in Janu­ary found that it would not, a con­clu­sion touted by the pro­ject’s sup­port­ers but cri­ti­cized by its op­pon­ents.

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