- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2012

Democratic senators voted Thursday to ratify President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, leaving the project in limbo but ensuring it remains a political issue through this year’s elections.

Mr. Obama personally lobbied Democrats to support his decision, and was rewarded when 42 of them sided with him — enough to sustain a filibuster against a GOP-led effort to undo the president’s rejection.

“The Democrat-controlled Senate just turned its back on job creation and energy independence,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “President Obama’s personal pleas to wavering senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation. When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office.”

Also Thursday, the Senate rejected an effort by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, to force the administration to cut $10 billion in duplicative programs out of the federal budget, and turned back another effort to expand offshore oil- and gas-drilling permits.

Senators also approved new rules for Gulf Coast oil spill recovery money so that part of it can be sent to states to spend how they see fit.

The flurry of action came after Mr. McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, broke a weeklong deadlock that had stopped them from moving forward on a massive new transportation bill.

Senators from both parties insisted on being able to vote on amendments, and Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell settled on a list of 30. Seven of them had votes Thursday, and the rest will come next week.

But the oil pipeline was the biggest showdown.

Keystone XL would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands into the U.S. for refining, following a route that could go through environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska. An application had been pending for years, and most U.S. agencies had signed off on it, but Mr. Obama’s State Department last year said it was putting off final approval until after the 2012 election.

Congressional Republicans balked and forced through a bill setting a final deadline for the Obama administration to decide on the project. Mr. Obama, siding with environmentalists and against his labor union allies, rejected the pipeline in January.

The White House said the timeline Congress set didn’t give the State Department enough time to weigh all of the issues involved, so he was left with no choice but to reject it.

Pipeline operator TransCanada said in February it would go ahead with about 500 miles of the southern part of the pipeline, from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast, to alleviate a storage bottleneck in Oklahoma. It also has said it will submit an alternate route for the northern segment, so as to avoid the part of Nebraska at issue.

A majority of senators voted 56-42 Thursday to overturn his decision, but the vote fell four shy of the 60 needed to approve the amendment under the Senate’s rules for debate.

White House press secretary Jay Carney would not tell reporters which senators Mr. Obama lobbied, and said Republicans were trying “to play politics” with the pipeline.

He said it was “false advertising” to say that approving the pipeline would reduce gas prices now.

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