By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday to build the Keystone XL pipeline, although there isn't enough support to override a likely presidential veto, as the 62-36 vote was five votes short of a supermajority. Nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans to vote for the bill.
The Senate rejected a handful of amendments to the bill, including a proposal to create a national renewable electricity standard requiring 25% of power to come from renewable sources by 2025, and an amendment to require TransCanada to pay into the oil-spill trust fund, among other amendments.
The proposed pipeline has faced years of federal evaluation, delays, changes in Congress and court challenges. Environmental groups have led landowner opposition to the project in the Nebraska Sandhills. Despite outcry from environmental groups about a foreign company potentially using eminent domain against landowners, to this point just 12% of Nebraska's landowners along the pipeline route have not struck deals with the company. All landowners in nearby states have signed construction easement agreements.
The process in passing the bill was "more open and deliberative than it has been in years," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in a news conference ahead of the final vote.
"What you've seen out there on the Senate floor in the past couple weeks is seeing members coming at it from a different perspective," Murkowski said. "All of a sudden you're seeing there may be someone you can work with on other issues. It has been good for the process and I think good for the spirit of cooperation as we move forward."
The Washington Times reported Thursday that Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, plans to attach the Keystone measure to other energy legislation favored by the Obama administration if the president vetoes the Keystone bill.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., sponsor of the bill, said the Senate and House action shows there is bipartisan support for the project.
"The American public overwhelmingly supports this legislation," he said. "I think the most recent poll out this month, three-to-one the people of this country want the president to sign this legislation. This is about working for the American people. This took a bipartisan effort to get done. This is what the American people want."
Russ Girling, president and chief executive officer of TransCanada, said opponents of the project have ignored the facts about the pipeline.
"Those who argue this pipeline is for export are not being factual," he said in a statement. "Why on earth would Canadian and U.S. companies pay to ship their oil to Gulf Coast refineries, then pay again to ship that same oil overseas, only to pass tankers bringing millions of barrels of oil into America? It makes no sense. That was the exact conclusion of the U.S. State Department in its final supplemental environmental impact statement issued in January of 2014 which states: 'such an option (exports) appears unlikely to be economically justified for any significant durable trade given transport costs and market conditions.'"
Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, said the Senate's action puts pressure on the president to deny the permit.
"Senators who love Keystone just voted to approve eminent domain for private gain and to risk our water, all for one foreign corporation," she said in a statement. "The good news for landowners in the Heartland is President Obama cares about our land and water and will veto this reckless bill. Farmers and ranchers need stability in their government so they can plan crops and development of their land. A full rejection of Keystone cannot come soon enough for landowners."
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said the Senate has "wasted time" on a bill the president is sure to veto.
"Putting the agenda of polluters ahead of the American public is bad policy and it's bad politics," he said. "Remember when Senate Republicans thought moving forward with Keystone XL first would help them score political points? Now, they've managed to waste weeks of the American people's time floundering around on a bill that the White House has indicated will be vetoed, and they've gone on the record against broadly popular policies like protecting our drinking water, supporting wind jobs, and forcing the Koch Brothers to disclose their political spending."
While a recent Nebraska Supreme Court action essentially cleared the way for the completion of a pipeline. Opponents of the project including landowners along the proposed pipeline route recently filed a new round of lawsuits aimed at stopping TransCanada from claiming eminent domain in acquiring construction easements on private property.
The high court ruled other landowners along the route didn't have standing in the original lawsuit. However, a series of new lawsuits include landowners who already have received letters from TransCanada threatening to use eminent domain -- meaning they could have standing.
In addition, the Obama administration reportedly gave other federal agencies until Feb. 2 to comment on the State Department's environmental impact statement for Keystone, indicating the administration may be closer to rendering a decision on a presidential permit on the project.
In all, the Senate considered 41 amendments to the Keystone bill.
The bill survived a late surge of proposed amendments Thursday, including one offered by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., that would have required the updating of the State Department's environmental impact statement on the project when new information comes to light.
In opposition to the proposal, Murkowski said the amendment would have further withheld the Keystone project. "The obvious strategy of pipeline opponents is to drag this out until everyone just walks away," she said on the floor of the Senate.
Another amendment shot down offered by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., would have required TransCanada to pay into the oil-spill trust fund, an issue expected to be taken up by the House at some point.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the Obama administration should follow the will of the American people and approve the project.
"Keystone XL would support thousands of jobs and invest billions of dollars in the economy at no expense to taxpayers," he said in a statement. "This is the kind of common-sense legislating the American people hired America's new Congress to do. The president is out of excuses. He should support this project and join Republicans in getting Washington working again for the American people."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Todd on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
© Copyright 2015 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.