Republicans Vow Continued Fight on Keystone After Rejection

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By Ari Natter

Nov. 6 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other congressional Republicans vowed not to give up on legislative efforts to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved, but analysts said there was little they could do after President Barack Obama announced Nov. 6 that the administration rejected TransCanada Corp.'s application to build the project.

Obama's decision makes it all the more unlikely Republicans would succeed in attaching language approving Keystone to a must-pass bill or muster the additional four votes needed to overcome the White House veto of legislation deeming the proposed heavy oil pipeline approved.

“The reality is it may take until we get a new administration,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), one of the Senate's chief backers of the $8 billion project, told Bloomberg BNA in a phone interview. “Given that he just vetoed it, obviously it's going to be hard to get additional Democrats to join us.”

Obama announced the administration's decision to reject the project, proposed to carry crude from Alberta oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas, in remarks given at the White House, formally ending a seven-year review of the pipeline, which had come to embody his commitment to addressing climate change.

Climate Leadership Cited

“Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America's energy security,” Obama said in remarks three weeks ahead of international climate talks in Paris. “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. Frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership, and that is the biggest risk that we face. Not acting.”

Congressional Republicans and others said they weren't surprised by the decision, which the White House had been telegraphing for months, and said they would continue to fight for the pipeline(45 DER A-31, 3/9/15)(44 ECR, 3/6/15)

“Given this project's importance to North American energy independence, the question still remains not if but when Keystone will be built. Republicans have no intention of giving up on common-sense jobs ideas like Keystone,” McConnell said in a statement. “Our nation's long-term need for the energy and jobs Keystone would provide will certainly outlast the little over a year remaining in the term of the current Administration.”

Little Congress Can Do

Still, lawmakers have little recourse, said Brigham McCown, who formerly served as acting administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration during the George W. Bush administration.

“I don't think there is much the Congress can do at the moment other than to point out how misaligned the president's energy policy is,” McCown said in an interview. “We get more oil from Canada then any other country. This decision ensures it will still get to market, but less effectively, less efficiently and with more spills.”

The oil that would have flowed through the 1,179-mile long pipeline is expected to travel by rail, for a total of 1,400 rail cars of crude a day, and increase the likelihood of accidents occurring, he said.

Democrats, Environmentalists, Praise Decision

Meanwhile, environmentalists and other opponents of the project heralded the president's decision.

“I want to thank the Obama Administration for protecting the health of the American people and the health of the planet by rejecting the ill-advised Keystone tar sands pipeline, which would have brought the filthiest oil known to humankind into our country in large amounts,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.

Legislation (S. 1) that would have circumvented the Obama administration's review of the Keystone XL pipeline was vetoed by the president in February, and a veto override vote in the Senate fell five votes short of the 67 needed (42 ECR, 3/4/15).

Hoeven's office said the number of Senate supporters actually totals 63 because Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), a co-sponsor of the legislation, wasn't present for the vote.

“I don't see any Congress members in the Senate flipping their take on Keystone,” Rob Barnett, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said in an interview. “The stakes are higher now.”

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at