- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Senate committee voted Wednesday to cut President Obama out of the process to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but another powerful Democrat still stands in the way of the project — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

On the heels of Wednesday’s bipartisan vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, lawmakers were skeptical that Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat and an opponent of the massive Canada-to-Texas pipeline, will allow the full Senate to vote on the measure.

The bill would eliminate the need for the president to personally sign off on Keystone, allowing Congress to work around a White House that has delayed a decision on the pipeline for more than five years.

Committee chairwoman Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat facing re-election this fall, vowed Wednesday she’ll do everything in her power to bring the bill to the floor.

“I have pushed many bills through [the Senate]. Just get ready,” she said just before the committee voted 12 to 10 to approve the measure.

All 10 Republicans on the panel and two Democrats — Ms. Landrieu and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted “yes” on the bill.

SEE ALSO: Sen. Mary Landrieu: Iraq unrest means America needs Keystone XL pipeline

Sen. John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican, said a total of 57 senators back the measure, meaning it would clear the chamber in an up-or-down vote, but is just shy of the 60 votes needed to end debate and fend off a filibuster.

But even those who supported the Senate bill and voted for it Wednesday have little faith it will actually help to break the deadlock over Keystone, which has spanned the entirety of Mr. Obama’s time in office while frustrating organized labor, the Canadian government and many others.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said that while he believes the pipeline should be built immediately, he doesn’t expect Mr. Reid to allow a vote on the Senate floor, making Wednesday’s exercise ultimately pointless.

“He won’t do it because he opposes the pipeline and the president opposes the pipeline and they’ve done everything in their power to stop it,” Mr. Barrasso said. “The obstacle to getting Keystone built is Sen. Reid.”

Mr. Reid’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times.

If built, the pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil each day south from Alberta, Canada, through the U.S. heartland en route to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Energy & Environment

Supporters of the project say not only would it allow the U.S. to get fuel from a friendly neighbor such as Canada — as opposed to hostile or unstable nations such as Venezuela — it also would create tens of thousands of jobs while pumping billions of dollars into the economy.

Keystone would lead to about 42,000 jobs and provide an economic boost of about $2 billion, according to a State Department analysis of the pipeline.
That same analysis also found that Keystone will not result in a significant increase in U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions — cited by Mr. Obama as the determining factor in whether he approves the project.

But many Democrats and environmental activists still vehemently oppose Keystone. Some environmentalists have said Mr. Obama’s entire legacy on the issues of climate change and the environment depends on whether he greenlights the pipeline.

Even though Keystone, according to the administration’s own research, won’t increase harmful emissions, opponents believe it would signal that the U.S. is doubling down on fossil fuels at a time when it should be moving away from oil, natural gas and coal.

“Maybe, just maybe, we have a window of opportunity — 10, 15 years — to radically transform our energy system, to move away from fossil fuels,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, who voted against the bill. “If we approve the Keystone pipeline, the dirtiest oil imaginable, what we say to the entire world is, ‘Don’t believe anything anybody says about climate. They’re just kidding … Really, we’re more interested in protecting the big energy companies.’”

The State Department has halted further review of Keystone and it’s unclear when it will issue its “national interest determination,” the final step before Mr. Obama would make a decision.

The administration says it is waiting for the outcome of a court case in Nebraska, where the pipeline’s route through the state is in legal limbo.
A decision by the Nebraska court isn’t expected until the fall.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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