Keystone XL bill passed by Senate panel

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The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed legislation mandating construction of the Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday in possibly the last Senate action on the Canada-to-Texas project before the November midterm election.

The measure secured a 12-10 vote, with two Democrats -- chairwoman Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, and Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia -- joining Republicans to approve the bill. Notably, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., facing competition from Keystone XL supporter GOP Rep. Cory Gardner for his Senate seat, voted against the bill.

The bill, however, is unlikely to reach the floor; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said as much Tuesday.

Instead, the vote devolved into accusations of politicking about the pipeline, which has been in federal administrative limbo for nearly six years. Republicans accused Landrieu, a staunch pipeline booster who's in a tight re-election tilt against GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy, as holding a "show vote" on the pipeline.

"This vote seems more like a cheerleading exercise," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. "The obstacle to getting Keystone built is Senator Reid."

Added Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, "With all due respect, madam chairman, this is very political. ... I want to commend you for having this hearing today, but we all know this isn't going anywhere."

Reid, like most Democrats, opposes the pipeline, which would bring carbon-dense oil sands from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.

Landrieu slammed Republicans for suggesting the legislation was more about politics than policy.

"There was no popcorn and Coca-Cola handed out today at this meeting," Landrieu said in response to Barrasso, whose conservative Republican Policy Committee a day earlier had blasted Landrieu on holding the Keystone XL vote. "And there were no tickets sold to get in here. This is the United States Senate. This is the Energy Committee."

In addition, the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a video Wednesday hitting Landrieu on the Keystone XL vote collapse in May. And John Cummins, a spokesman for Cassidy's campaign, said Landrieu is "desperately trying to distract from her ineffectiveness on Keystone [XL]."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., though, said the fault didn't rest solely with Democrats. She noted GOP lawmakers balked at Reid's May offer to hold a standalone vote on Keystone XL in exchange for an amendment-free vote on an energy-efficiency bill.

Landrieu's preference for the pipeline is hardly questionable. Republicans instead are putting forth the argument that Landrieu's position atop the energy committee matters little if Reid is still leading the Senate.

But Landrieu said she held the committee vote for policy reason. She said that Keystone XL could provide jobs, and that it presented an answer to the question of whether United States want to get its energy from Canada, an ally, or less friendly nations.

"I think the people that I represent, most people in the United States, would rather get their oil from Canada," she said, referring to instability in Iraq, though the State Department has said Keystone XL would largely displace Venezuelan heavy crude imports.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who co-sponsored the legislation with Landrieu and 54 other lawmakers, said Keystone XL also would reduce reliance on deliveries of crude by railcar.

In an update to its environmental assessment earlier this month, the State Department noted it had lowballed the amount of crude-by-rail fatalities by four times if Keystone XL were not built. It now believes not building Keystone XL could result in 18 to 30 deaths annually.

"The reality is if this project is going to get approved, Congress is going to have to do it," Hoeven said. "The president clearly is not going to approve it."

President Obama has had to balance environmental groups who say the pipeline would exacerbate climate change and union groups who want it built for the 42,100 direct and indirect jobs the State Department says it would create. Backers in the business community and oil industry say it also would enhance energy security.

Opponents of the pipeline, however, said they were concerned about more than just one infrastructure project.

"The issue is that the scientific community is overwhelmingly in agreement that climate change is real. That climate change is caused by human activity. That climate change is the most devastating planetary crisis facing our planet. That climate change has already caused serious problems in our country," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

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