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Environmentalists pick away at Dem support for Keystone pipeline

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As Beltway Confidential has noted before, the White House appears to be edging towards approval of the trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline project, much to the chagrin of environmentalist groups who are vehemently opposed to it. Those groups are nevertheless making some headway among rank and file House Democrats, as the Washington Post notes. It compares support for a pro-Keystone bill sponsored by Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., with a similar one sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb.:

On Wednesday night, the House passed Terry’s bill by a vote of 241 to 175, with 19 Democrats voting in favor. But on May 18, 2012 the House voted 261 to 152 in favor of a motion by Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), which would have done essentially the same thing: order the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a permit for the pipeline within 30 days of receiving an application from TransCanada.

What explains the loss of 20 yes votes? Eight Democrats switched their votes, and a more liberal freshman class replaced some of the House’s more conservative members. Reps. John D. Dingell (Mich.), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), David Loebsack (Iowa), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), Albio Sires (N.J.) and Timothy Walz (Minn.) all voted aye for Barrow’s motion last year, and against Terry’s measure on Wednesday. Meanwhile, 42 of the 47 Democratic members of the freshman class opposed Terry’s bill.

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One of the most interesting flips was Lynch, who lost his bid to become the Democratic candidate for the open Senate seat in Massachusetts after he was targeted by a coalition of environmentalists over his support for Keystone.

In a statement, Lynch called Terry’s bill “a blatant attempt to strip President Obama of his authority to conduct meaningful review of that project,” and challenged the idea that he had switched sides on the issue.

“The bill would set a very bad precedent and is very likely an example of unconstitutional overreach. For those reasons, I chose to oppose the bill,” he added. “I have repeatedly supported enhanced review of this project and await the administration’s decision. I have enjoyed a strong lifetime record on environmental issues and I will continue to support efforts to meet our energy needs in a sustainable way. My vote on H.R. 3 is consistent with my earlier positions.”

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