WASHINGTON — The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday night on the approval of the long-delayed and controversial Keystone XL pipeline in an unexpected move that weighs a potential short-term bounce for the Democratic-controlled chamber against far-reaching political consequences for President Obama.
After stalling and skirting the issue for years, Majority Leader Harry Reid has chosen to at last schedule a vote on the project in the lame duck session, ostensibly to help embattled Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, a fellow Democrat, secure re-election. After garnering less than 50 percent of the vote on election night, Landrieu will face Republican opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La. in a run-off Dec. 6, in which her chances of holding her seat are looking increasingly slim but could, it has been suggested, be enhanced by a ‘yes’ vote in the Senate.
The Republican-controlled House already voted last week to give the pipeline the go-ahead, 252-161, with Cassidy sponsoring the legislation in the lower chamber.
Both candidates are hoping that helping to orchestrate the pipeline’s approval will give them an edge among voters in Louisiana, a state where the gas and oil industry dominates. As such, both Cassidy and Landrieu have scrambled to burnish their energy credentials.
“I’m going to do everything in my power here and at home on the campaign trail, where I’m still in a runoff, as you know, to get this project moving forward,” Landrieu said in a three-hour-long speech on the floor of the Senate last Wednesday, urging her colleagues to stand with her.
Yet the pipeline, which upon completion would traverse from Canada’s Alberta Province all the way to the Gulf Coast in Texas, would not run through Louisiana. Moreover, it is unclear whether Keystone’s approval would actually be enough to tip the Senate race one way or the other.
Fifty-nine Senators — including all 45 Republicans, as well as Democratic Senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — are publically on the record saying they support the pipeline. Landrieu has spent the last day reaching out to additional moderate Democrats to get to the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the measure in the Senate.
The Obama administration has declined to say whether the President would veto the legislation if it arrived on his desk. The White House has delayed a decision on the pipeline for years, with officials saying they are awaiting a final State Department review of the environmental impact of the project that would take into account a forthcoming Nebraska Supreme Court decision that may alter the route of the pipeline.
“Understand what this project is — it is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. That doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices,” Obama said last week while on a visit to Myanmar. “You know what does have an impact on U.S. gas prices is the incredible boom in U.S. oil production and natural gas production that’s taken place under my administration.”
Nonetheless, even if Obama does veto the legislation this time around, it is very likely that he would have to deal with the issue again when the new Republican Senate majority takes power in January. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will take over as Majority Leader in January, and House Speaker John Boehner have said approval of Keystone XL is one of their key priorities.
The pipeline’s backers say the project would create tens of thousands of American jobs — albeit temporary — and generate approximately $2 billion of economic output, according to an earlier State Department review completed in January. Environmentalists, however, stridently oppose the pipeline’s construction, saying it would signal a continuing commitment to fossil fuels as the United State should be transitioning to cleaner forms of energy that do not contribute to climate change. Ranchers and Native Americans also object to the pipeline being built across their lands.
The January State Department assessment also found that Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions because the oil will be produced anyways, even without the pipeline to transport it.