WASHINGTON – Three of Minnesota’s freshly re-elected Democrats broke with their party Friday to approve a measure that directs construction of the long-delayed Keystone pipeline, which would lug crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Reps. Rick Nolan, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz supported the construction, along with Republican Reps. Erik Paulsen, John Kline and Michele Bachmann. The measure heads to the Senate next week; if passed, however, it faces an uncertain future on President Obama’s desk.
Though the pipeline would not run through Minnesota, it has become a flash point in the national debate on balancing job creation, energy independence and protecting the nation’s natural resources. Nolan, who won re-election by one percentage point Nov. 4, was criticized on the campaign trail by his GOP opponent Stewart Mills for earlier votes against the pipeline.
The congressman, who will enter his second term, said he’d support the pipeline if it were constructed using domestic resources, including U.S. steel. That was a direct appeal to voters on the Iron Range, where up to 10,000 people earn their living, directly or indirectly, off the half-dozen taconite mines that dot the landscape. He also vowed to environmentalists in his district that he would look out for their interests, too.
But Friday’s measure was a so-called clean vote, with no amendments and no debate. Republican House leaders didn’t accept arguments made by Nolan to guarantee that the pipeline would be built with American steel.
Nolan said Friday he was annoyed there was no time allowed for amendments or debate. But he said he changed his position on the bill after he sensed his constituents wanted more compromise and bipartisanship from Congress. He also said this version was a better bill because it guaranteed the pipeline would still have to comply with environmental regulations.
“People are expecting some bipartisanship and compromise, and it’s by no means a perfect bill,” he said in an interview after the vote. “I’m convinced it’s the best that can be accomplished.”
Reviews from the Range
On the Range, where use of American steel had become a rallying cry of sorts, some questioned why politicians would support the pipeline if it’s not going to benefit American workers immediately.
“Why would you run a pipeline from Canada with the dirtiest oil running through it made with cheap foreign steel in the breadbasket of America … all in the name of profits for an oil company?” said John Malek, president of the 1,300-worker union local at Minntac mine near Virginia. “The only benefit I really see out of this is getting some good American steel in it and putting some construction workers back to work.”
State Sen. David Tomassoni, a DFLer from Chisholm, said the Keystone matters to his region because of the steel.
“Anytime you talk about making steel, it’s about our immediate economy on the Iron Range,” he said. “It’s what we do, we mine iron ore and that makes steel. It would be huge for us.”
The vote, which has not been warmly welcomed by the White House this week, was granted by both chambers mostly because of Louisiana politics. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu faces a runoff election Dec. 6 against Republican House Rep. Bill Cassidy, who crafted the bill House members voted on Friday. In pushing the measure to a quick vote in the Senate next week, Landrieu is trying to establish her power and bona fides in the Democratic-controlled chamber, where she is attempting to sway some of her own to support the measure.
The House vote was 252-161. As of Friday, supporters appeared to have 59 of the 60 votes needed in the Senate.
Minnesota senators’ take
Sen. Al Franken also promoted American steel for the Keystone pipeline in his campaign. He said Friday that he was disappointed the measure being taken up this time didn’t include that.
“I’ll probably vote against it,” he said, noting he wanted to see the Obama administration’s environmental review first. “If this passes, hopefully I can get a stand-alone vote to make it with American steel later. I think this is Canadian oil and it’s being sent through the United States to get through Louisiana to be sent elsewhere. … Let’s at least make it with American steel.”
His colleague Sen. Amy Klobuchar, appointed by Majority Leader Harry Reid to Democratic Senate leadership this week, said she was likely going to vote against it because she, too, wanted to respect the administration’s process.
She noted, though, that her patience was “wearing thin.”
“I think the project has some merit. … I think mostly I’ve been supporting allowing the process to be concluded on the federal side,” Klobuchar said. “At some point, patience is going to run out here and I hope the administration is going to keep their word. … I would like to see the project done.”