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Senate Bid to Force Keystone Pipeline Fails... Barely

- Common Dreams staff

An attempt by Republican US Senators, joined by some Democrats, to push through an amendment to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline went down to defeat Thursday afternoon on a 52-46 vote.  Eleven Democrats joined a unanimous Republican caucus, but the amendment came up short of the sixty votes needed to pass.

Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility in Alberta, Canada. (AFP/Getty) The result was welcomed by those who have worked hard to oppose the pipeline project, which would bring what Canadian tar sands oil -- which energy experts call the 'dirtiest fuel on the planet' -- from Alberta, across the great plains of the United States to oil refineries in Texas for export to world markets. The tar sands oil that would be transported by Keystone XL ranks among the most carbon-intensive oils on the planet and its production is three-to four-times more greenhouse gas intensive than conventional oil. According to the EPA, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has the potential to increase carbon pollution (pdf) by 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of seven coal-fired power plants operating continuously or having 6.2 million cars on the road for 50 years.

“Backers of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline just don’t seem to get it: the country does not want a rush to judgment when it comes to building a massive dirty energy project through our heartlands that would be so damaging to our climate, water, land and health,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of International Programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

350.org founder Bill McKibben, who has led protests against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, gave the following statement on today's vote in the Senate:

Today's vote was a temporary victory and there's no guarantee that it holds for the long run. 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.

The reason this fight has been so hard is because of the financial power of the fossil fuel industry, so that's what we're going after now. We've been playing defense for months, now we've got to quickly go on offense. Going forward, we'll be working with the huge majorities of Americans who want to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. We've learned a lot, not all of it savory, about how the political process works and we're going to put that to use.

Offensive efforts by environmental groups, led by 350.org, will include launching a global petition to end fossil fuel subsidies and working to get every member of Congress on the record about whether they side with Big Oil or stand with the American people.

According to Roll Call, Democrats who joined Hoeven in supporting the amendment primarily hailed from states with robust energy industries. They were Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Bob Casey (Pa.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Jim Webb (Va.).

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Other amendments defeated

Roll Call also reported today:

The Senate also defeated an amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would have delayed for 15 months Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding industrial boiler emissions. The delay is needed, supporters argued, in order to give the EPA time to rewrite the rules and to provide additional time for the facilities to comply after the rules are finalized. The amendment needed 60 votes to pass but failed 52-46.

A proposal from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), which was defeated 44-54, would have increased oil and gas development by allowing the sale of leases throughout the Outer Continental Shelf, including off the coasts of Florida, California and Virginia.

NRDC, speaking to the defeat of all three amendments, said: "Reason prevailed today as the Senate rejected three major anti-environmental amendments. Lawmakers defeated efforts to expand offshore oil drilling, roll back Clean Air Act protections on pollution from boilers, and force approval of the dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

And the Sierra Club's Michael Brune said in a statement, “At a time when gas prices are climbing to four dollars a gallon, American families need real solutions, not more giveaways to the polluter lobby. The Senate should focus on creating jobs and reducing our dependence on oil by repairing our infrastructure and investing in clean, convenient transportation choices, such as transit, biking and walking.”

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