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
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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