WASHINGTON – The Keystone XL pipeline won a key vote in the Senate on Monday, clearing a path for a bill approving its construction to soon pass after six years of debate over the plan to ship Canadian crude oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Ten Democrats and an independent, Maine Sen. Angus King, joined 52 Republicans in voting to advance the bill. The procedural vote required support of 60 of the 100 senators, enough to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and is the furthest Keystone supporters have ever reached in the Senate. Next comes debate over amendments and expected final passage of the bill.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised to allow consideration of all amendments, and Democrats have plans to propose a series of amendments regarding oil exports and renewable energy, among other issues.
Despite Monday's vote, though, there is still not enough support for the pipeline to override President Obama's promised veto. It would take a two-thirds vote to overcome Obama's veto, which in the Senate would mean 67 votes.
The 1,179-mile Keystone XL is designed to ship as much as 830,000 barrels a day, mostly from the Canadian oil sands, to refineries in Texas. Tapping the thick Alberta crude produces more planet-warming gases than conventional sources of oil, and it's harder to clean up when spilled.
An identical bill passed the House on Friday, but not with enough support to overcome a presidential veto.
The energy markets have changed in the six years since the pipeline was first proposed. Skyrocketing U.S. oil production helped to create a global supply glut and sent oil prices crashing. Energy companies, tired of waiting for Keystone to be approved, increasingly turned to rail to ship crude oil as an alternative. But the Keystone pipeline has remained a congressional obsession, a political line in the sand in the national debate over jobs, energy and the environment.
Senate backers of the pipeline said it would create thousands of construction jobs, lessen U.S. imports of Middle Eastern oil, and bolster ties with Canada. McConnell said it's a "bipartisan jobs bill" and there's no excuse for the president to block the pipeline.
The White House said Obama will veto the Keystone bill because it would force approval of the pipeline before the State Department finishes a review of whether the project is in the national interest.
Democrats blasted the bill in floor debate on Monday, saying the pipeline would create just 35 permanent jobs and worsen climate change.
"It's a pipeline dedicated to increasing production of some of the dirtiest, most polluting and dangerous crude oil in the world," said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.