A bipartisan Senate effort to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline collapsed Monday making it unlikely a politically potent vote on the project will take place before November’s midterm election.
A vote on Keystone was tied to the fate of an unrelated energy efficiency bill that has support in both parties. But that measure failed to get the 60 votes it needed to move forward after getting bogged down in partisan fighting over whether GOP amendments would be allowed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had warned he would only allow a vote on the separate Keystone bill if the energy efficiency legislation was cleared.
“There is bipartisan support for the underlying bill but there is an insistence to have votes and a real debate on energy policy,” Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican, said.
Democratic leaders countered they had already made a major concession by agreeing to a vote on Keystone – a project opposed by many environmentalists and most Senate Democrats – and they did not want to agree to additional politically difficult votes on environmental and energy issues that divide their caucus.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who opposes Keystone, said he had agreed to allow a vote on a bill to approve Keystone in exchange for GOP votes to clear the energy efficiency bill, which is co-authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. He balked when Republicans insisted on additional amendments to the energy efficiency bill, such as one to curb new EPA regulations of coal-fired electrical plants.
“Democrats have acted in good faith,” Reid said. “We’ve bent over backwards to make this bill work.”
Reid’s decision may hurt moderate Senate Democrats such as Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska who are up for re-election this fall in red states and who support Keystone. For instance, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who chairs the energy committee, has made passing Keystone a top legislative and political priority as she runs for a third term in a state that is heavily dependent on the energy industry for jobs.
Republicans were quick to highlight Landrieu’s inability in getting Keystone passed.
When Democratic leaders said they would schedule a vote on Keystone they did so knowing a bill ultimately would probably fail, but they still hoped that holding the vote would be helpful to their vulnerable Democrats facing re-election. Three of 17 Democrats who had supported a non-binding vote on the issue a year ago said they would not vote for it in the current form, all but assuring it could not get the 60 votes needed to succeed.
The Obama administration is currently reviewing the environmental impact of the pipeline, which runs from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. But a final decision is not expected until after the midterm elections.