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Senate Energy Committee Passes Keystone XL Bill, 13-9

Despite Tuesday's threat of a presidential veto, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed a bill to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline on Thursday.

The committee voted 13-9 to pass the bill, S-1, which was introduced Tuesday by Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). Manchin broke ranks and voted with every Republican on the panel to pass the bill. According to reports, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on its version of the bill on Friday, and the Senate is to take a floor vote next week.

"I am disappointed that the president will not allow this Congress to turn over a new leaf and engage in the legislative process to improve an important piece of legislation," Manchin said before Thursday's vote. "His decision to veto such a commonsense bill prior to the unfolding of regular congressional order and the offering of amendments appears premature and does little to mitigate the congressional gridlock."

Following the veto threat, Republicans appear to be trying to woo Democrats to support the bill -- and join in overriding a possible veto -- by adding amendments that appeal to Democratic lawmakers. According to reports, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said he would offer a scaled-down version of an earlier energy efficiency bill to be included as a possible amendment; however, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said this week she was cool to the idea. As of Thursday evening, there were no amendments attached to the bill.

The Senate energy committee met in executive session on Thursday morning and debated the bill for nearly two and a half hours.

"It's fair to say that the world is watching to see whether the United States is ready to lead as a global energy superpower...that respects its neighbors, trades with its allies, and builds necessary infrastructure such as pipelines," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the committee's new chairman, said in her written comments. "I believe Congress is ready to send that signal in a bipartisan manner.

"It is unfortunate that the administration continues to stand in the way, even threatening to veto this important legislation. I don't think that that threat should deter us as a committee, as a Senate, and really, as a Congress."

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the committee's new ranking member, said that if Congress ultimately passes the pipeline bill, it would undercut the Nebraska Supreme Court, which was to rule over whether that state's governor had the power to approve a revised pipeline route bypassing the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region (see Shale DailyJan. 23, 2013).

"What is the emergency here for Congress to usurp the process and become a siting committee, and approve a pipeline for a route that is not yet approved?" Cantwell said. "There are too many important environmental issues to be considered instead of giving a foreign company -- a special interest -- a sweetheart deal from Congress that even U.S. businesses haven't gotten."

The S-1 bill would authorize TransCanada Corp. to construct and operate the pipeline. It would run from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast (see Shale Daily, May 7, 2012). Keystone XL would transport 830,000 b/d to U.S. refineries, including 100,000 b/d from the Bakken Shale.

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