WASHINGTON — President Obama has said he will veto it and it may not get built anytime soon even if approved.
But the bill to greenlight the Canadian Keystone XL pipeline project passed out of a Senate committee Thursday as the first display of Republican legislative muscle in the 114th Congress.
The vote was 13 to 9 as expected, with a lone Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, siding with all 12 Republicans.
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the new top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, answered the roll call with an emphatic, “no.” Cantwell argued Congress would be “prematurely” intervening in a complex international project with potential consequences for public safety and the environment.
The Keystone expansion — first proposed in 2008 and which would connect Alberta, Canada, to existing TransCanada pipelines running from Nebraska to the Gulf of Mexico — has been controversial because of its route near ecologically sensitive areas and a major aquifer and because extracting thick Alberta oil-sands crude would generate more globe-warming gases than conventional crudes.
Cantwell noted the project is awaiting a ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which has to decide whether Gov. Dave Heineman’s 2013 approval for Keystone must be reviewed by a state agency.
“My message to the TransCanada Corp. is to play by the rules,” Cantwell said.
Republicans on the committee, including Sens. John Hoeven (N.D.) and Jim Risch (Idaho) expressed frustration at what they called federal obstruction for a project that would both create jobs and enhance U.S. energy security.
Yet those arguments have lost their punch in recent months amid worldwide oil glut and plunging prices that have turned Keystone into a riskier financial venture.
The marked-up Keystone bill now goes to the full Senate, where it’s all but certain to win passage. Last November, the measure came within in one vote of 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate, after Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., forced a show-down vote in a futile bid to win reelection.
Thursday’s committee meeting began with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chairs the panel, and Cantwell professing many mutual interests and pledging to work cooperatively. But their disagreement over Keystone became quickly apparent, with Murkowski eager to see the project begin and Cantwell warning of spills and tainted water.