Legislation giving the go ahead to the Keystone XL pipeline moved closer to the president’s desk on Monday night, as the Senate voted to commence debate on the bill to approve the massive project that has been in limbo for more than five years.
The Senate voted 63-32 to advance the bill to the floor, clearing the 60-vote cloture hurdle for a bill that would bypass White House review of the controversial TransCanada Corp. pipeline. A floor vote on the bill could come as early as this week. (Cloture -Rule 22–is the only formal procedure that Senate rules provide for breaking a filibuster. A filibuster is an attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter. Under cloture, the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours of debate).
The House of Representatives passed its own Keystone approval bill on Friday by a comfortable 266-153 margin. Twenty-eight Democrats joined all but four of the House’s 242 Republicans in voting yes.
The companion bill in the Senate has 59 co-sponsors, including Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The Senate Keystone bill is moving with lightning speed through the chamber. It was the first bill introduced during the new session last week, and will likely be sitting on the president’s desk in a matter of days.
President Barack Obama has pledged to veto the bill once it reaches his desk. The Senate would need 67 votes to overcome a presidential veto.
The project had been held up by a court challenge in Nebraska, but that state’s Supreme Court last week upheld the state’s approval of the Keystone route through the state. The decision removes a roadblock frequently cited by President Obama as part of his hesitation to sign a bill approving the project.
The pipeline will carry tar sands crude oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. TransCanada has already secured the necessary permits for the 485 miles of the pipeline running from the crude market hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries near Port Arthur, Texas, after deciding to split the lower segment from the more contentious northern route that runs into Canada.
TransCanada submitted its original permit application in 2008. The company agreed in 2011 to consider alternative routes for the pipeline after the Nebraska Legislature passed a law requiring it to build around a major aquifer in the state.
The White House still rejected TransCanada’s initial bid in 2012, following controversy over a congressionally imposed deadline to act on the company’s request. But he left the door open for TransCanada to reapply and has expedited the new review of the project. The U.S. Department of State concluded last year that the project is unlikely to increase the rate of oil sands drilling or heavy crude demand significantly, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has criticized the conclusions as not giving enough consideration to alternative pipeline routes and relying on outdated energy-economic modeling.
Obama has said he would approve the pipeline only if it does not “significantly exacerbate the effects of carbon pollution.”