WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Thursday narrowly rejected a GOP provision to fast-track the construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. The amendment, brought to the floor as part of a larger effort to break a Republican filibuster on the transportation bill, required 60 votes for passage. The vote was 56 to 42.
"Today's vote was a temporary victory and there's no guarantee that it holds for the long run," said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org who has led protests against the pipeline since August. "But given that this thing was a 'no brainer' a year ago, it's pretty remarkable that people power was able to keep working, even in the oil-soaked Senate. We're grateful to the administration for denying the permit and for Senate leadership for holding the line."
First introduced by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D), the amendment would have stripped the State Department of its authority to approve the pipeline, handing that power instead to Congress.
Until recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) repeatedly vowed not to consider it as part of the transportation bill unless the transportation bill also included provisions promising the oil, once refined, would be kept in the U.S. The latter amendment, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was defeated on Thursday on Republican opposition. The vote was 34-64.
Eleven Democrats bucked President Barack Obama by voting in favor of the amendment. They include Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D).
"We had 11 Democrats support our legislation," said Hoeven, noting that two Republicans missed the vote, and that Obama lobbied Democrats to stay with him. "We think that number is going to continue to grow."
House Majority Leader John Boehner at a press conference Thursday afternoon accused the president of "personally lobbying" against the construction of the pipeline.
"I think the White House owes the American people an explanation," he said. "The president said this week that he wants to see lower prices at the pump - at least in an election year. But his own policies are making matters worse and driving up the cost of energy. But by 'personally lobbying' against the Keystone pipeline, it means the president of the United States is lobbying for sending North American energy to China, and lobbying against American jobs."
Republicans have emphasized that the pipeline, which would stretch 1,700 miles from tar sands in Canada to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast, would help improve energy security by making the U.S. less reliant on foreign oil. "This is also about national security," said Hoeven in a statement Thursday on the House floor. Opponents have countered citing the potential for spills as well as damages incurred to the global environment.
Obama rejected a permit for the controversial pipeline earlier this year, putting the $7 billion project on hold pending further environmental review.