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Keystone XL Pipeline at Top of GOP Agenda in 2015

Senate committee hearing set for next week

Activists gather outside of Capitol Hill to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: 350.org/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is set to hold a hearing next week to discuss the Keystone XL pipeline.

The hearing will take place on January 7, once Republicans retake control of the Senate. The committee will consider legislation that, if approved, would push the controversial $7 billion project forward after years of resistance from environmental organizations and some Democrats in Congress. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) vowed to make Keystone a top issue, saying before the end of this year's session that it would be the first item brought to the floor by the GOP in 2015.

In November, the Senate—then still majority Democrat—rejected a bill to approve the Canada-to-Texas pipeline by a single vote. Republicans promised to move the bill forward once they took control of the Senate in January.

The January 7 hearing will be the first one held by new chairwoman Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

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If passed by Congress, the bill would still need a presidential permit to move forward. President Barack Obama has said that he would not approve the pipeline if it posed an environmental risk—which, as numerous climate groups and studies have noted, it does.  After expressing growing skepticism about the project for months, Obama said last week that the pipeline would "not even have a nominal benefit" to American consumers, in his most forthright critique of Keystone yet.

But Republicans are hoping to garner the votes needed to allow them to push the project forward without requiring presidential approval.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said this week that he expects the chamber to have significant power over certain projects in 2015, including the pipeline. "I think we’ll have a supermajority, a veto-proof majority," in cases like sanctions against Iran, Rubio told NPR. "I think the same is true of the Keystone pipeline, potentially."

May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said of the failed November vote, "By dramatically accelerating tar sands oil development, Keystone XL clearly fails President Obama’s own climate test. The pipeline is a lose-lose for everyone except TransCanada. The President has all the information he needs to reject this pipeline now, and we’re going to stand by him to make sure he does."

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