Keystone Bill to Be ‘First’ for Consideration In Republican Senate, McConnell Says

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By Ari Natter

Dec. 16 — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Dec. 16 that legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline would be “the first item up” for consideration when Republicans take control of the Senate in 2015.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is expected to reintroduce legislation (S. 2280) that would give Congress the authority to approve TransCanada's stalled $8 billion project by tapping the Constitution's commerce clause.

“We're optimistic we can pass it and put it on the president's desk,” McConnell told reporters following a weekly Republican caucus meeting. “The notion that building another pipeline is somehow threatening to the environment is belied by the fact that we already have 19 pipelines.”

McConnell, who will be Senate majority leader in the 114th Congress, said in his remarks that he welcomed amendments from senators on “both sides” of the aisle.

“There'll be no effort to try to micromanage the amendment process,” said McConnell, who has frequently criticized current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for blocking minority amendments from consideration.

Reid blocked the Keystone bill from consideration after Senate Republicans insisted they be allowed votes on amendments that would expand liquefied natural gas exports and limit the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

The Keystone XL pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude from Canada and shale oil produced in North Dakota and Montana to a market hub in Nebraska for further delivery to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

Amendments Expected 

Those amendments, and other energy measures sought by Republicans, could reemerge when the bill returns to the floor, although controversial measures such as those that take aim at EPA regulations could strip any Democratic support for the legislation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is poised to become chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said it is important that senators realize “we will have many other energy initiatives coming before the committee that we hope to move to the floor.”

She added the bill would go through the committee process before going to the floor.

“We've identified an issue that we think there is good bipartisan support for, it's accepted around the country as a priority and we are going to try and move it,” Murkowski told reporters.

The pipeline, which was first proposed by TransCanada Corp. in 2008 to transport crude from oil sands in Alberta to an existing segment of pipeline in Steele City, Neb., is pending approval by the State Department because it crosses an international boundary.

Under an updated version of legislation Hoeven previously introduced, a presidential permit would no longer be needed to approve the project.

Hoeven's earlier bill would declare TransCanada Corp.’s revised proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline to be congressionally approved and would allow construction of the pipeline across the U.S.-Canadian border to proceed.

In September, Hoeven told Bloomberg BNA he expected Republican gains in the midterm elections to draw the 60 votes needed to effectively pass legislation in the Senate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com