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Senate, State Department Move Forward on Keystone XL

A bill authorizing construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline took another step toward passage in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday after lawmakers successfully used a parliamentary procedure to kick off debate over the bill.

Meanwhile, the State Department said it was moving forward, independent of Congress, in determining whether the pipeline was in the national interest.

The Senate voted 63-32 to invoke cloture, a move that limits debate over a bill to 30 hours and prevents a possible filibuster. Every one of the 52 Republicans present voted for cloture. They were joined by one independent, Sen. Angus King (I-ME), and 10 Democrats, including the bill's sponsor, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The other nine Democrats were Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mark Warner (D-VA). Two Republicans and three Democrats were not present for the vote.

With the vote, it appears Senate backers of the Keystone XL bill -- 54 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent -- are three votes short of the 67 needed to override a possible veto by President Obama. Last week, Obama threatened to veto any bill authorizing construction of the pipeline (see Shale Daily, Jan. 6).

Keystone XL supporters in the U.S. House of Representatives also appear to be short of the 290 needed to override a veto. That chamber's version of the pipeline authorization bill, H-3, easily won passage by a 266-153 vote last week (see Shale Daily, Jan. 9). Twenty-eight House Democrats voted for the bill.

Last Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a law granting Gov. Dave Heineman the power to approve the pipeline's route through the state could stand. Uncertainty created by the legal battle delayed the State Department finalizing its review of the project (see Shale Daily, Jan. 9; April 21, 2014; March 4, 2013).

During a press briefing on Friday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the department was not ready to release the results of its review of the pipeline and declined to give a timeline of when a decision would be finalized.

"We've continued to work on the matter," Psaki said. "Our process isn't starting over...The next step is to request that [the eight federal] agencies complete their consideration of whether the proposed project serves the national interest and provide their views to the department. That will, of course, be factored into the national interest determination, which is what ultimately at some appropriate time the secretary will issue."

The eight federal agencies are the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice and Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Psaki said the eight agencies were originally given a 90-day deadline to provide their input, before the Nebraska dispute went to court. But she said that didn't mean State was ready to release its national interest determination at the end of the 90-day period.

"We'll be in touch soon with the agencies to give them a timeline on when we'll need their input back," Psaki said. She added that under the executive order, Secretary of State John Kerry will be the one who ultimately makes the recommendation on the national interest.

Psaki added that State would not hasten its review of the pipeline in lieu of Congress taking up bills bypassing the Administration and authorizing construction.

"Regardless of the [Nebraska] ruling, the House bill and their review still conflicts -- and our view, the administration's view -- with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president," Psaki said. "That's colleague over at the White House indicated earlier this week what the president's intentions would be.

"We're continuing this process. We'll see it through. And that's where we are at this point in time."

According to Senate records, lawmakers have so far tacked two amendments to its bill, S-1. Both were introduced Monday. The first, by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), includes a provision that says the final supplemental impact statement issued by the secretary of state in January 2014 will satisfy all of the requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as any other federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act.

A second amendment to S-1 -- submitted by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on his behalf and that of his Democratic colleague, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) -- calls for enacting energy efficiency measures in federal and other buildings, among other things. Shaheen had been cool to the idea of attaching the energy efficiency measures to the Keystone XL bill, maintaining that they could pass on their own in a separate bill (see Shale Daily, Jan. 8).

The addition of the energy efficiency measures championed by Shaheen is interpreted by some as a way for Republicans to attract more Democratic support for the Keystone XL bill and override a possible veto.

Both H-3 and S-1 would authorize TransCanada Corp. to construct and operate the pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast and transport 830,000 b/d to U.S. refineries, including 100,000 b/d from the Bakken Shale (see Shale Daily, May 7, 2012).

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