Push for Key­stone vote puts Se­nate Democrats in a bind

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid got stuck this week in the po­lit­i­cal tan­gle of the Key­stone XL pipe­line, caught be­tween the party’s en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist base that fiercely op­poses it and vul­ner­a­ble Se­nate Democrats from red states who want to vote to ap­prove the long-stalled project.

With an en­ergy bill on the floor, Repub­li­cans said the time was ripe to force a vote on their pri­or­i­ties in­clud­ing a pro­posal to ap­prove the Key­stone pipe­line. Mr. Reid balked, and the bill is now in limbo amid bick­er­ing over who can of­fer amend­ments and what they can say.

That once again left red-state Democrats squirm­ing and look­ing for ways to vote on the project and put dis­tance be­tween them­selves and Pres­i­dent Obama.

The set­back was par­tic­u­larly painful for Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu of Louisiana, one of the Se­nate’s most en­dan­gered Democrats and a lead spon­sor of the bill. It called into ques­tion Ms. Lan­drieu’s boast that her pow­er­ful po­si­tion as chair­woman of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on En­ergy and Nat­u­ral Re­sources makes her in­dis­pens­able to Louisiana vot­ers.

Repub­li­cans have coun­tered that in all her time on the com­mit­tee, Ms. Lan­drieu has failed to ad­vance the Key­stone XL project, which would al­low oil from west­ern Canada to be piped to re­finer­ies and ports on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Be­cause the pipe­line crosses an in­ter­na­tional bor­der, it re­quires fed­eral ap­proval.

Ms. Lan­drieu blamed the set­back Tues­day on par­lia­men­tary con­flicts.

“They can’t agree on amend­ments,” she told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Mr. Reid said he had promised Key­stone sup­port­ers a stand-alone vote in the fu­ture if they let him push through the en­ergy ef­fi­ciency bill now, with­out a host of other changes.

He said Repub­li­cans re­fused, which leaves both sides hurtling to­ward a fil­i­buster vote this week that likely will kill the mod­est en­ergy ef­fi­ciency bill.

On the Se­nate floor, Mr. Reid of­fered a folksy anal­ogy about the dif­fi­culty cut­ting deals with his Repub­li­can col­leagues.

“Oft times, work­ing with my Repub­li­can Se­nate col­leagues re­minds me of chas­ing one of these lit­tle pigs in a greased pig con­test,” he said. “Re­gard­less of all of our ef­forts, any­time we get close to mak­ing prom­ise, it seems as though we watch it slip out of our hands and the Repub­li­cans scam­per away.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, said the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity was deny­ing Amer­i­cans a se­ri­ous de­bate about en­ergy pol­icy.

“We can’t move for­ward if the Democrats who run the Se­nate keep try­ing to pro­tect the pres­i­dent at the ex­pense of serv­ing their con­stituents,” he said.

Re­fus­ing a vote on the amend­ment to ap­prove the project spared Mr. Obama, who has re­peat­edly de­layed it since he took of­fice, from a po­ten­tially em­bar­rass­ing bi­par­ti­san vote that could have ap­proved the pipe­line over his ob­jec­tions.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists op­pose the project be­cause they fear cat­a­strophic spills from the more than 800,000 bar­rels of oil per day that would course through the cross­coun­try pipe­line, as well as emis­sions of green­house gases that they blame for cli­mate change.

They have warned Mr. Obama of po­lit­i­cal peril in November’s elec­tions if he ap­proves the project.

The Sierra Club sent a fran­tic email Tues­day evening ask­ing sup­port­ers to call their se­na­tors and rally in op­po­si­tion to the pipe­line.

“It would en­sure more dis­as­trous oil spills, threaten sources of drink­ing wa­ter for mil­lions, dis­rupt wildlife, and in­crease rates of can­cer and other health prob­lems in Canada and in re­fin­ery com­mu­ni­ties here in the United States,” the club said.

Sup­port­ers of the pipe­line say the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s State Depart­ment has con­cluded that the pipe­line won’t in­crease green­house gas emis­sions be­cause, among other rea­sons, Canada has said it will mine and sell the oil no mat­ter what, pos­si­bly to U.S. cus­tomers shipped through rail­road cars.

Sup­port­ers also say the Key­stone XL pipe­line would cre­ate thou­sands of con­struc­tion jobs and pro­vide en­ergy from a sta­ble and friendly neigh­bor rather than vul­ner­a­ble and some­times hos­tile regimes in the Mid­dle East and Venezuela.

Red-state Democrats have been among the most vo­cal in de­mand­ing that Mr. Obama speed up ap­proval.

Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu of Louisiana, one of the Se­nate’s most en­dan­gered Democrats, was the lead spon­sor of the en­ergy bill that in­cluded the pipe­line.

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