Keystone XL pipeline backers came up one vote short in the Senate though vowed to try again in January when they expect to have enough support to send a bill to President Barack Obama.
The 59-41 vote yesterday to approve the pipeline fell below the 60 needed, despite pressure from co-sponsor and Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, who spent days cajoling colleagues to back the legislation to boost her re-election odds.
Next year’s vote promises to be different when Republicans take control of the chamber with at least eight more members. That could be enough to win passage though short of the 67 needed to overcome a presidential veto without significant Democratic defections.
“We’ll do it next year,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is poised to be majority leader when Republicans take control in January. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, also has said enactment of a Keystone measure is a top priority; his chamber passed the measure last week.
Since TransCanada Corp., a Calgary-based pipeline maker, first applied to build Keystone in September 2008, it has become a proxy in a broader debate over jobs, U.S. energy security and climate change. Keystone XL would have the capacity to carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day, connecting Alberta’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
All 45 Senate Republicans voted for the bill, joined by 14 Democrats. Next year, Republicans will have 54 members if Landrieu loses her race to Republican Representative Bill Cassidy, who is leading in polls.
In a separate vote, senators also failed to advance legislation that would have limited the National Security Agency’s ability to collect bulk phone records, making it unlikely to pass this year.
Next year the odds improve for Keystone backers. Four Democrats who have opposed the project will be replaced by four Republicans who support it: incoming Senators Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. If Landrieu loses a runoff Dec. 6, she will be replaced by Cassidy, who sponsored the House measure on Keystone.
In that case, Republicans would need support from 13 Democrats to override a veto.
Four of the Democrats who voted for the Keystone bill yesterday lost their re-election bids earlier this month.
Obama, meanwhile, faces no deadline to decide, meaning Keystone could remain in limbo into the next election.
The State Department, which has jurisdiction over cross- border projects, is reviewing whether the pipeline is in the national interest. Its evaluation has been delayed as it awaits a court decision in Nebraska that will determine the legality of the proposed route across that state.
Obama stopped short of threatening to veto yesterday’s bill, though he said he opposed it and favored letting the review proceed.
Last week he offered his harshest comments yet about the project, saying it would carry Canadian oil for export to markets outside the U.S. and wouldn’t create many long-term jobs. He hasn’t said he opposes the project, though.
“We’re more confident than ever that this pipeline will never be built,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group.