In a symbolic vote early Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate voted 62-37 to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The measure, sponsored by Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) was added as an amendment to the Budget bill. This vote is only symbolic because the Senate Budget Bill is D.O.A in the Republicans House, and the decision on Keystone rests with the president under current law.
All Republicans in the Senate voted for the pipeline. They were joined by 17 Democrats including Colorado’s junior Senator Michael Bennet and Senators Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
All the Democrats voting for the bill come from red or purple states except Senators Casey and Coons. Colorado’s senior senator, Mark Udall, voted against the amendment, splitting with Bennet. Udall is up for re-election this year.
This vote puts the Senate on record as supporting Keystone but despite 17 Democratic defections, most Democrats voted against the amendment.
The pipeline crosses an International border so the final decision rests with the President. When pushed by Congress in 2011, President Obama turned down the permit and required additional studies. As a result, the pipeline was re-routed away from the sensitive Ogallah Aquifer. The State Department concluded its review and recommended approval. The President will make a decision by the end of the year.
Canadians are producing the tar oil now, and will do so with or without approval of Keystone. This pipeline will make it less expensive for them to get the oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast and ports facilitating its export to China and India.
The company building the pipeline has said if Keystone is not approved, they will build a more expensive pipeline through the Canadian Rockies to export the thick oil to Asia. Construction of the pipeline through the Rockies would potentially be more disruptive to the ecology than going through the Great Plains of the U.S.
Last month 50,000 demonstrators descended on Washington D.C. to voice their opposition to construction of the pipeline. Their concern is that the pipeline is bad for the environment and will contribute to climate change by enabling the production of dirty tar sands oil.
Objection to the pipeline is based on several concerns. One is that burning of fossil fuels is the reason the earth is getting warmer resulting in climate change. Opponents of the pipeline believe the money spent on Keystone would be better spent on non-polluting energy like solar and wind.
Secondly, tar sand oil is heavier, dirtier, and more carcinogenic than regular crude oil. Production of tar sand oil has a large carbon footprint. When there is a break in the pipeline, which is almost certain to happen more than once, the spilled oil is much harder to clean up than regular crude. It does not float and if it gets into ground water, there will be consequences to public health.
Oil companies and the scientists they employ maintain that there is no risk from tar sand oil or Keystone. The State Department review tended to back up their conclusions. Republicans and the Democrats supporting Keystone argue that it will make us less dependent on foreign oil ignoring the fact Canada is a foreign country.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offered an amendment which would have required disclosure on how many Americans jobs would actually be created by the pipeline. She asked how much American steel would be used; how many American contractors would be hired to build it; and how much of this oil would be used in the United States as opposed to being exported to Asia. The latter point could debunk the claim that this oil would make us energy independent if it goes to Asia.
Boxer’s amendment was voted down 33-67. It seems Senators want the pipeline built whether it benefits the U.S or not. Oil companies spend tens of millions of dollars a year lobbying Congress, plying members with trips and perks. They also hand out campaign contributions by the barrel.
At this point, the Keystone pipeline seems to be picking up steam.
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