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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Bill intended to force construction of Keystone XL pipeline fails to advance in U.S. Senate

By the tightest of margins, the U.S. Senate this evening defeated a poorly conceived bill intended to give oil giant TransCanada a green light to build its proposed Keystone XL pipeline through Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska.

S.2280, prime sponsored by Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota and promoted by an increasingly desperate Mary Landrieu of Louisiana since Election Night two weeks ago, needed sixty votes to pass. It received fifty-nine.

Thirty-nine Democrats and two independents who caucus with Senate Democrats (Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) courageously stood up to the dirty fossil fuels industry and voted no on the bill, leaving Senate Republicans and the oil wing of the Senate Democratic caucus one vote short of victory.

The opposition to S.2280 was led by Barbara Boxer of California, who thoroughly debunked Republican claims about the proposed pipeline. (Republicans falsely say the pipeline will create a lot of jobs… they’ve increasingly shied away from saying how many… and that it would not harm the environment.)

The Pacific Northwest’s delegation split along ideological lines rather than party lines. This was the roll call vote from our region:

Voting Aye: Democrats John Walsh and Jon Tester (MT), Mark Begich (AK); Republicans Mark Crapo and Jim Risch (ID), Lisa Murkowski (AK)

Voting Nay: Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR)

Aside from Begich, Walsh, and Tester, the Democrats who broke with the rest of their caucus to support the bill were:

  • Mary Landrieu, Louisana
  • Michael Bennet, Colorado
  • Tom Carper, Delaware
  • Bob Casey, Pennsylvania
  • Joe Donnelly, Indiana
  • Kay Hagan, North Carolina
  • Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota
  • Joe Manchin, West Virginia
  • Claire McCaskill, Missouri
  • Mark Pryor, Arkansas
  • Mark Warner, Virginia

Hagan and Pryor will not be returning to the U.S. Senate for the 114th Congress.

Landrieu had hoped that Angus King of Maine might be the sixtieth vote for the legislation, but he announced a few hours ago he would not support the bill.

“Congress is not — nor should it be — in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project,” King said in a press release.

“And while I am frustrated that the President has refused to make a decision on the future of the pipeline, I don’t believe that short-circuiting the process to circumvent his Administration is in the best interest of the American people. I urge the President to make a decision soon, and, if he doesn’t, I look forward to working with Congress to put a timeframe on this decision.”

Landrieu had previously told reporters that she was confident she had sixty votes, saying “I feel comfortable.” Thankfully, it turned out she didn’t really have sixty.

S.2280 is appropriately titled “a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.” That’s truly all it is: a shameful, blatant attempt to do a big oil company’s bidding. The text of S.2280 consists of just a few provisions. Here it is in its entirety:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


(a) In General- TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. may construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline and cross-border facilities described in the application filed on May 4, 2012, by TransCanada Corporation to the Department of State (including any subsequent revision to the pipeline route within the State of Nebraska required or authorized by the State of Nebraska).

(b) Environmental Impact Statement- The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Secretary of State in January 2014, regarding the pipeline referred to in subsection (a), and the environmental analysis, consultation, and review described in that document (including appendices) shall be considered to fully satisfy —

(1) all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.); and

(2) any other provision of law that requires Federal agency consultation or review (including the consultation or review required under section 7(a) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1536(a))) with respect to the pipeline and facilities referred to in subsection (a).

(c) Permits- Any Federal permit or authorization issued before the date of enactment of this Act for the pipeline and cross-border facilities referred to in subsection (a) shall remain in effect.

(d) Federal Judicial Review- Any legal challenge to a Federal agency action regarding the pipeline and cross-border facilities described in subsection (a), and the related facilities in the United States, that are approved by this Act, and any permit, right-of-way, or other action taken to construct or complete the project pursuant to Federal law, shall only be subject to judicial review on direct appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

(e) Private Property Savings Clause- Nothing in this Act alters any Federal, State, or local process or condition in effect on the date of enactment of this Act that is necessary to secure access from an owner of private property to construct the pipeline and cross-border facilities described in subsection (a).

Aides to Barack Obama had indicated that he was prepared to veto S.2280 had it passed, but now it’s dead, so he won’t have to.

Republicans have promised to hold another vote on similar legislation in early 2015 once they control the U.S. Senate majority. And although a couple of senators who voted against Keystone XL today are departing the Senate (Mark Udall, Tim Johnson), Republicans can’t necessarily count on Michael Bennet and Tom Carper to remain votes for advancing the pipeline – which means the next S.2280 may still not reach Obama’s desk in the 114th Congress.

The votes already exist to do TransCanada’s bidding in the House; the House voted out a bill on Friday similar to S.2280 with Mary Landrieu’s opponent’s name on it. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, whose tribal lands TransCanada intends to run Keystone XL through, responded to the vote forcefully.

“We are outraged at the lack of intergovernmental cooperation,” tribal president Cyril Scott said in a statement. “We are a sovereign nation and we are not being treated as such. We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.”

It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to a lobby as powerful as the oil industry. We are grateful to Tribal President Scott, activist leader Jane Kleeb, and all the other good people organizing to ensure this destructive, dirty pipeline project never gets built. It makes zero sense for the United States to assume the risks for a high polluting energy project that will send dirty fuel abroad for other nations to burn and generate profits for a foreign oil conglomerate.

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One Comment

  1. Keystone XL is totally unaffordable. It would be a disaster. This project needs to die.

    # by Cornelius Luxton :: December 3rd, 2014 at 7:30 AM