Democrats Block Keystone Bill, Landrieu’s Plea Rejected

The Senate blocked the pipeline bill 59-41 on Tuesday night.

CUSHING, OK - MARCH 22: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. 
National Journal
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Jason Plautz, Clare Foran and Ben Geman
Nov. 18, 2014, 1:18 p.m.

Mary Landrieu begged her fel­low Demo­crats to back le­gis­la­tion ap­prov­ing the Key­stone XL pipeline, look­ing for a life­line in her long-shot bid to keep her Sen­ate seat. But on Tues­day night, she fell one vote short.

The Sen­ate re­jec­ted an at­tempt to get clo­ture on the meas­ure, with 41 sen­at­ors — all Demo­crats or in­de­pend­ents — vot­ing to stall the meas­ure.

It’s a vic­tory for en­vir­on­ment­al groups and their Demo­crat­ic al­lies, who op­pose the oil-sands pipeline be­cause of its con­tri­bu­tions to glob­al warm­ing. And it saves Pres­id­ent Obama a head­ache: The White House op­posed the bill but will be re­lieved not to have to veto it.

For Landrieu, it’s an­oth­er set­back at an already low mo­ment. Weeks away from Louisi­ana’s Dec. 6 run­off elec­tion and trail­ing Rep. Bill Cas­sidy in the polls, Landrieu had hoped to use her steer­ing of the meas­ure through the Sen­ate to in­fuse new life in­to her cam­paign. She got a boost from her party’s top brass when they agreed to hold a stand-alone Key­stone vote, a step they’d been loathe to take in the past.

And go­ing in­to the vote, Landrieu had 59 as­sured sup­port­ers for her mo­tion, but — des­pite her as­sur­ances she could break a fili­buster — it was nev­er clear where she’d get No. 60. Demo­crat­ic Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin was seen as one of Landrieu’s last op­tions, but he voted ‘no’ on the bill.

Durbin kept the Sen­ate guess­ing un­til the mo­ment he voted. “I am headed to the floor. You will know in a mo­ment,” he said when flocked by re­port­ers in the Cap­it­ol ahead of the vote. Asked if there was any reas­on he wasn’t re­veal­ing his in­ten­tions, Durbin replied: “just … let me breathe.”

After the vote, Landrieu in­sisted that the loss did not un­der­cut her ar­gu­ment that Louisi­ana voters should elect her for her clout in the up­per cham­ber, telling re­port­ers that the very ex­ist­ence of the lame-duck Key­stone battle was proof of her cre­den­tials.

“Only a seni­or mem­ber that has been here as long as I have could re­cog­nize the op­por­tun­ity, the op­por­tun­ity when Mitch Mc­Con­nell was fo­cused on oth­er is­sues and Harry Re­id was go­ing back to his same old agenda,” said Landrieu, who heads the Sen­ate’s En­ergy pan­el and — if reelec­ted — would likely serve as the pan­el’s top Demo­crat. “I said, you know what, I think it is time to have this de­bate. So my ex­per­i­ence is still valu­able, my chair­man­ship of the En­ergy Com­mit­tee un­til the end of this Con­gress is very valu­able to the people of Louisi­ana.”

But Cas­sidy’s camp pounced on the vote. “Sen­at­or Mary Landrieu’s fail­ure to pass the Key­stone XL Pipeline this even­ing is a per­fect snap­shot of her time as Chair of the En­ergy Com­mit­tee — a fail­ure,” a Cas­sidy spokes­man said in a state­ment sent im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the vote. “It is clear that Sen­at­or Landrieu is un­able to stand up for Louisi­ana ef­fect­ively.”

Cas­sidy’s state­ment also noted that the House passed a meas­ure to ap­prove the pipeline last week.

Le­gis­la­tion green-light­ing the oil-sands pro­ject is cer­tain to come to Obama’s desk next year, however, when Re­pub­lic­ans take the reins in the Sen­ate. Soon-to-be Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has pledged to move swiftly to au­thor­ize the pipeline.

Tran­sCanada’s pro­ject would carry hun­dreds of thou­sands of bar­rels of oil each day from oil-sands pro­jects in Al­berta, Canada, to re­finer­ies along the Gulf Coast. It would also carry oil from the boom­ing Bakken form­a­tion in North Dakota.

Key­stone is a big pri­or­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans and in­dustry groups that have lob­bied ag­gress­ively in fa­vor of the pipeline. But it’s a polit­ic­al head­ache for Obama, and for Demo­crats in gen­er­al, who are di­vided over the pro­ject.

Many labor uni­ons back Key­stone, but en­vir­on­ment­al­ists — an­oth­er pil­lar of Obama’s polit­ic­al bas — bit­terly op­pose it and have moun­ted an ag­gress­ive cam­paign in re­cent years that has in­cluded nu­mer­ous protests.

The White House did not is­sue a form­al veto threat on the pro­ject, but the pres­id­ent hin­ted in the days lead­ing up to the vote that he would veto the le­gis­la­tion.

White House spokes­man Josh Earn­est said Tues­day, “It cer­tainly is a piece of le­gis­la­tion that the pres­id­ent doesn’t sup­port.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has spent six years weigh­ing the pro­ject, and the pres­id­ent has re­peatedly said in re­cent days that he wants to let the re­view play out. The pres­id­ent also made crit­ic­al com­ments about the pro­ject on his re­cent trip to Asia, buoy­ing en­vir­on­ment­al­ists.

“I have to con­stantly push back against this idea that some­how the Key­stone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is some­how lower­ing gas prices,” he told re­port­ers in My­an­mar four days ago.

Obama has also said that he will not ap­prove Key­stone un­less he’s cer­tain that build­ing the pro­ject would not sig­ni­fic­antly in­crease car­bon emis­sions.

Re­pub­lic­ans, who have said the pro­ject is an eco­nom­ic win that will boost U.S. en­ergy se­cur­ity, used the de­bate to in­crease polit­ic­al pres­sure on the White House over Key­stone.

It’s a vic­tory for en­vir­on­ment­al groups and their Demo­crat­ic al­lies, who op­pose the oil-sands pipeline be­cause of its con­tri­bu­tions to glob­al warm­ing. And it saves Pres­id­ent Obama a head­ache: The White House op­posed the bill but will be re­lieved not to have to veto it.

For Landrieu, it’s an­oth­er set­back at an already low mo­ment. Weeks away from Louisi­ana’s Dec. 6 run­off elec­tion and trail­ing Rep. Bill Cas­sidy in the polls, Landrieu had hoped to use her steer­ing of the meas­ure through the Sen­ate to in­fuse new life in­to her cam­paign. She got a boost from her party’s top brass when they agreed to hold a stand-alone Key­stone vote, a step they’d been loathe to take in the past.

And go­ing in­to the vote, Landrieu had 59 as­sured sup­port­ers for her mo­tion, but — des­pite her as­sur­ances she could break a fili­buster — it was nev­er clear where she’d get No. 60. Demo­crat­ic Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin was seen as one of Landrieu’s last op­tions, but he voted ‘no’ on the bill.

Durbin kept the Sen­ate guess­ing un­til the mo­ment he voted. “I am headed to the floor. You will know in a mo­ment,” he said when flocked by re­port­ers in the Cap­it­ol ahead of the vote. Asked if there was any reas­on he wasn’t re­veal­ing his in­ten­tions, Durbin replied: “just … let me breathe.”

After the vote, Landrieu in­sisted that the loss did not un­der­cut her ar­gu­ment that Louisi­ana voters should elect her for her clout in the up­per cham­ber, telling re­port­ers that the very ex­ist­ence of the lame-duck Key­stone battle was proof of her cre­den­tials.

“Only a seni­or mem­ber that has been here as long as I have could re­cog­nize the op­por­tun­ity, the op­por­tun­ity when Mitch Mc­Con­nell was fo­cused on oth­er is­sues and Harry Re­id was go­ing back to his same old agenda,” said Landrieu, who heads the Sen­ate’s En­ergy pan­el and — if reelec­ted — would likely serve as the pan­el’s top Demo­crat. “I said, you know what, I think it is time to have this de­bate. So my ex­per­i­ence is still valu­able, my chair­man­ship of the En­ergy Com­mit­tee un­til the end of this Con­gress is very valu­able to the people of Louisi­ana.”

But Cas­sidy’s camp pounced on the vote. “Sen­at­or Mary Landrieu’s fail­ure to pass the Key­stone XL Pipeline this even­ing is a per­fect snap­shot of her time as Chair of the En­ergy Com­mit­tee — a fail­ure,” a Cas­sidy spokes­man said in a state­ment sent im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the vote. “It is clear that Sen­at­or Landrieu is un­able to stand up for Louisi­ana ef­fect­ively.”

Cas­sidy’s state­ment also noted that the House passed a meas­ure to ap­prove the pipeline last week.

Le­gis­la­tion green-light­ing the oil-sands pro­ject is cer­tain to come to Obama’s desk next year, however, when Re­pub­lic­ans take the reins in the Sen­ate. Soon-to-be Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has pledged to move swiftly to au­thor­ize the pipeline.

Tran­sCanada’s pro­ject would carry hun­dreds of thou­sands of bar­rels of oil each day from oil-sands pro­jects in Al­berta, Canada, to re­finer­ies along the Gulf Coast. It would also carry oil from the boom­ing Bakken form­a­tion in North Dakota.

Key­stone is a big pri­or­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans and in­dustry groups that have lob­bied ag­gress­ively in fa­vor of the pipeline. But it’s a polit­ic­al head­ache for Obama, and for Demo­crats in gen­er­al, who are di­vided over the pro­ject.

Many labor uni­ons back Key­stone, but en­vir­on­ment­al­ists — an­oth­er pil­lar of Obama’s polit­ic­al bas — bit­terly op­pose it and have moun­ted an ag­gress­ive cam­paign in re­cent years that has in­cluded nu­mer­ous protests.

The White House did not is­sue a form­al veto threat on the pro­ject, but the pres­id­ent hin­ted in the days lead­ing up to the vote that he would veto the le­gis­la­tion.

White House spokes­man Josh Earn­est said Tues­day, “It cer­tainly is a piece of le­gis­la­tion that the pres­id­ent doesn’t sup­port.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has spent six years weigh­ing the pro­ject, and the pres­id­ent has re­peatedly said in re­cent days that he wants to let the re­view play out. The pres­id­ent also made crit­ic­al com­ments about the pro­ject on his re­cent trip to Asia, buoy­ing en­vir­on­ment­al­ists.

“I have to con­stantly push back against this idea that some­how the Key­stone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is some­how lower­ing gas prices,” he told re­port­ers in My­an­mar four days ago.

Obama has also said that he will not ap­prove Key­stone un­less he’s cer­tain that build­ing the pro­ject would not sig­ni­fic­antly in­crease car­bon emis­sions.

Re­pub­lic­ans, who have said the pro­ject is an eco­nom­ic win that will boost U.S. en­ergy se­cur­ity, used the de­bate to in­crease polit­ic­al pres­sure on the White House over Key­stone.

“I say to Pres­id­ent Obama, time is up, and the ex­cuses have run out. It is time for you, Mr. Pres­id­ent, to make a de­cision,” said Sen. John Bar­rasso, a Wyom­ing Re­pub­lic­an who is part of the GOP lead­er­ship team, dur­ing the floor de­bate Tues­day. Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Thune, who is also in lead­er­ship, noted that the pipeline has bi­par­tis­an sup­port in Con­gress, and he said the Key­stone op­pon­ents are “mem­bers of the far-left wing of the Demo­crat­ic Party.”

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists and Demo­crats against the pro­ject ar­gue that Key­stone will worsen glob­al warm­ing by serving as a cata­lyst for rap­id ex­pan­sion of car­bon-in­tens­ive oil-sands pro­duc­tion in Canada.

“To pro­tect the plan­et from cata­stroph­ic glob­al warm­ing, we need to leave four-fifths of the iden­ti­fied con­ven­tion­al fossil-fuel re­serves in the ground,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Ore­gon Demo­crat, ahead of the vote. “But build­ing the Key­stone pipeline would open the faucet to rap­id ex­ploit­a­tion of a massive new un­con­ven­tion­al re­serve — that is, the tar sands — mak­ing it much less likely for hu­man civil­iz­a­tion to suc­ceed in meet­ing that car­bon budget that is so im­port­ant to our fu­ture eco­nom­ic and en­vir­on­ment­al world.”

But a ma­jor State De­part­ment en­vir­on­ment­al ana­lys­is pub­lished in Janu­ary gen­er­ally re­but­ted claims that the pipeline is a linch­pin for grow­ing oil-sands pro­duc­tion.

It con­cluded that con­struc­tion of Key­stone — one of sev­er­al new oil-sands pipelines that com­pan­ies are pro­pos­ing — is un­likely to af­fect the rate of oil-sands ex­pan­sion. That’s be­cause grow­ing use of rail­ways to move oil can pick up the slack, even though mov­ing oil by rail is more ex­pens­ive.

However, State’s ana­lys­is also pre­dicts that if no new pipelines are built to handle ex­pan­ded oil-sands pro­duc­tion, oil prices re­main­ing in the $65-$75 per bar­rel range could cur­tail pro­duc­tion, but the study calls this un­likely. Oil prices have been fall­ing for months, and West Texas In­ter­me­di­ate crude oil is cur­rently trad­ing at around $75 per bar­rel.

The En­ergy De­part­ment’s stat­ist­ic­al arm this month es­tim­ated that oil will av­er­age $78 per bar­rel in 2015, which is well be­low its pre­vi­ous fore­cast.

It’s a vic­tory for en­vir­on­ment­al groups and their Demo­crat­ic al­lies, who op­pose the oil-sands pipeline be­cause of its con­tri­bu­tions to glob­al warm­ing. And it saves Pres­id­ent Obama a head­ache: The White House op­posed the bill but will be re­lieved not to have to veto it.

For Landrieu, it’s an­oth­er set­back at an already low mo­ment. Weeks away from Louisi­ana’s Dec. 6 run­off elec­tion and trail­ing Rep. Bill Cas­sidy in the polls, Landrieu had hoped to use her steer­ing of the meas­ure through the Sen­ate to in­fuse new life in­to her cam­paign. She got a boost from her party’s top brass when they agreed to hold a stand-alone Key­stone vote, a step they’d been loathe to take in the past.

And go­ing in­to the vote, Landrieu had 59 as­sured sup­port­ers for her mo­tion, but — des­pite her as­sur­ances she could break a fili­buster — it was nev­er clear where she’d get No. 60. Demo­crat­ic Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin was seen as one of Landrieu’s last op­tions, but he voted ‘no’ on the bill.

Durbin kept the Sen­ate guess­ing un­til the mo­ment he voted. “I am headed to the floor. You will know in a mo­ment,” he said when flocked by re­port­ers in the Cap­it­ol ahead of the vote. Asked if there was any reas­on he wasn’t re­veal­ing his in­ten­tions, Durbin replied: “just … let me breathe.”

After the vote, Landrieu in­sisted that the loss did not un­der­cut her ar­gu­ment that Louisi­ana voters should elect her for her clout in the up­per cham­ber, telling re­port­ers that the very ex­ist­ence of the lame-duck Key­stone battle was proof of her cre­den­tials.

“Only a seni­or mem­ber that has been here as long as I have could re­cog­nize the op­por­tun­ity, the op­por­tun­ity when Mitch Mc­Con­nell was fo­cused on oth­er is­sues and Harry Re­id was go­ing back to his same old agenda,” said Landrieu, who heads the Sen­ate’s En­ergy pan­el and — if reelec­ted — would likely serve as the pan­el’s top Demo­crat. “I said, you know what, I think it is time to have this de­bate. So my ex­per­i­ence is still valu­able, my chair­man­ship of the En­ergy Com­mit­tee un­til the end of this Con­gress is very valu­able to the people of Louisi­ana.”

But Cas­sidy’s camp pounced on the vote. “Sen­at­or Mary Landrieu’s fail­ure to pass the Key­stone XL Pipeline this even­ing is a per­fect snap­shot of her time as Chair of the En­ergy Com­mit­tee — a fail­ure,” a Cas­sidy spokes­man said in a state­ment sent im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the vote. “It is clear that Sen­at­or Landrieu is un­able to stand up for Louisi­ana ef­fect­ively.”

Cas­sidy’s state­ment also noted that the House passed a meas­ure to ap­prove the pipeline last week.

Le­gis­la­tion green-light­ing the oil-sands pro­ject is cer­tain to come to Obama’s desk next year, however, when Re­pub­lic­ans take the reins in the Sen­ate. Soon-to-be Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has pledged to move swiftly to au­thor­ize the pipeline.

Tran­sCanada’s pro­ject would carry hun­dreds of thou­sands of bar­rels of oil each day from oil-sands pro­jects in Al­berta, Canada, to re­finer­ies along the Gulf Coast. It would also carry oil from the boom­ing Bakken form­a­tion in North Dakota.

Key­stone is a big pri­or­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans and in­dustry groups that have lob­bied ag­gress­ively in fa­vor of the pipeline. But it’s a polit­ic­al head­ache for Obama, and for Demo­crats in gen­er­al, who are di­vided over the pro­ject.

Many labor uni­ons back Key­stone, but en­vir­on­ment­al­ists — an­oth­er pil­lar of Obama’s polit­ic­al bas — bit­terly op­pose it and have moun­ted an ag­gress­ive cam­paign in re­cent years that has in­cluded nu­mer­ous protests.

The White House did not is­sue a form­al veto threat on the pro­ject, but the pres­id­ent hin­ted in the days lead­ing up to the vote that he would veto the le­gis­la­tion.

White House spokes­man Josh Earn­est said Tues­day, “It cer­tainly is a piece of le­gis­la­tion that the pres­id­ent doesn’t sup­port.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has spent six years weigh­ing the pro­ject, and the pres­id­ent has re­peatedly said in re­cent days that he wants to let the re­view play out. The pres­id­ent also made crit­ic­al com­ments about the pro­ject on his re­cent trip to Asia, buoy­ing en­vir­on­ment­al­ists.

“I have to con­stantly push back against this idea that some­how the Key­stone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is some­how lower­ing gas prices,” he told re­port­ers in My­an­mar four days ago.

Obama has also said that he will not ap­prove Key­stone un­less he’s cer­tain that build­ing the pro­ject would not sig­ni­fic­antly in­crease car­bon emis­sions.

Re­pub­lic­ans, who have said the pro­ject is an eco­nom­ic win that will boost U.S. en­ergy se­cur­ity, used the de­bate to in­crease polit­ic­al pres­sure on the White House over Key­stone.

“I say to Pres­id­ent Obama, time is up, and the ex­cuses have run out. It is time for you, Mr. Pres­id­ent, to make a de­cision,” said Sen. John Bar­rasso, a Wyom­ing Re­pub­lic­an who is part of the GOP lead­er­ship team, dur­ing the floor de­bate Tues­day. Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Thune, who is also in lead­er­ship, noted that the pipeline has bi­par­tis­an sup­port in Con­gress, and he said the Key­stone op­pon­ents are “mem­bers of the far-left wing of the Demo­crat­ic Party.”

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists and Demo­crats against the pro­ject ar­gue that Key­stone will worsen glob­al warm­ing by serving as a cata­lyst for rap­id ex­pan­sion of car­bon-in­tens­ive oil-sands pro­duc­tion in Canada.

“To pro­tect the plan­et from cata­stroph­ic glob­al warm­ing, we need to leave four-fifths of the iden­ti­fied con­ven­tion­al fossil-fuel re­serves in the ground,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Ore­gon Demo­crat, ahead of the vote. “But build­ing the Key­stone pipeline would open the faucet to rap­id ex­ploit­a­tion of a massive new un­con­ven­tion­al re­serve — that is, the tar sands — mak­ing it much less likely for hu­man civil­iz­a­tion to suc­ceed in meet­ing that car­bon budget that is so im­port­ant to our fu­ture eco­nom­ic and en­vir­on­ment­al world.”

But a ma­jor State De­part­ment en­vir­on­ment­al ana­lys­is pub­lished in Janu­ary gen­er­ally re­but­ted claims that the pipeline is a linch­pin for grow­ing oil-sands pro­duc­tion.

It con­cluded that con­struc­tion of Key­stone — one of sev­er­al new oil-sands pipelines that com­pan­ies are pro­pos­ing — is un­likely to af­fect the rate of oil-sands ex­pan­sion. That’s be­cause grow­ing use of rail­ways to move oil can pick up the slack, even though mov­ing oil by rail is more ex­pens­ive.

However, State’s ana­lys­is also pre­dicts that if no new pipelines are built to handle ex­pan­ded oil-sands pro­duc­tion, oil prices re­main­ing in the $65-$75 per bar­rel range could cur­tail pro­duc­tion, but the study calls this un­likely. Oil prices have been fall­ing for months, and West Texas In­ter­me­di­ate crude oil is cur­rently trad­ing at around $75 per bar­rel.

The En­ergy De­part­ment’s stat­ist­ic­al arm this month es­tim­ated that oil will av­er­age $78 per bar­rel in 2015, which is well be­low its pre­vi­ous fore­cast.

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