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Keystone XL Bill Passes Senate, 62-36; Headed to White House

Republicans and supporters of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline set themselves on a collision course with the White House on Thursday, after the U.S. Senate voted 62-36 on a bill to authorize construction of the project.

Lawmakers must now iron out the differences between the Senate bill, S-1, and H-3, the companion bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives, 266-153, on Jan. 9. The measure would then head to President Obama's desk, where he has promised to veto it (see Shale DailyJan. 9;Jan. 6). Unless some votes can be swayed, it does not appear the Senate supporters of the measure have the two-thirds vote necessary to override a presidential veto.

Immediately after the vote, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, struck a bipartisan tone.

"I am very pleased that we are at this point, [after] three solid weeks of debate," Murkowski said, adding that both parties had collectively proposed about 250 amendments to S-1, 41 of which were ultimately brought up for a vote. "That's a lot of ideas. That's a lot of pent-up demand on energy-related legislation.

"I think we all recognize that there were some points of very clear tension around here. That's just part of the process. But fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. We were able to come back together. We were able to get the process moving forward and keep this bipartisan coalition intact."

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the ranking member on the Energy committee, was also cordial, calling the debate over S-1 an "incredible process."

"This was all a very unique experience -- coming to a new Congress, [this] being the very first bill up and everybody moving to that discussion" Cantwell said. "It was the trust that we could negotiate that got us through a couple of rough spots, and the fact that I could count on [Murkowski] for negotiating and trusting what she had to say about how we could move forward in getting these votes and getting things done."

The response to the bill's passage was swift.

"Republicans and Democrats alike on Capitol Hill are speaking in one clear voice saying it's time to build Keystone XL," said American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard. "This is one of the most bipartisan bills we have seen in recent history. We hope the president will seize this opportunity to work collaboratively with Congress to advance sound energy policy while creating thousands of jobs.

"We cannot afford to veto 42,000 good paying American jobs because of politics as usual. We urge the president to make the right decision and approve Keystone XL because it is in this nation's best interest."

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said he would be disappointed if the president ultimately decides to veto the bill, but added "my colleagues and I are committed to fight back as the Keystone pipeline is a much-needed step in the right direction for our economy and for America's energy security."

Environmental groups predicted a veto. "Ultimately, the Republican Senate's tar sands tactics are going to amount to nothing," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "President Obama has made it clear he will reject these attacks on his authority and repeatedly stated that he will reject the tar sands pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. The president has all the evidence he needs to reject Keystone XL now, and we are confident that he will."

Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, concurred. "This dirty and dangerous bill is soon to meet its well-deserved fate -- a presidential veto. We remain confident that President Obama will continue to build on his incredible climate leadership by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all."

At about 10 a.m. Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the chamber would be in session on Friday but would not hold any roll call votes. Three hours later, the Senate voted 62-35 to invoke cloture, moving the bill forward to a final vote. A previous attempt to invoke cloture last Monday was unsuccessful (see Daily GPIJan. 27).

S-1 authorizes TransCanada Corp. to construct and operate the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta to the Gulf Coast and transport 830,000 b/d to U.S. refineries, including 100,000 b/d from the Bakken Shale (see Shale DailyMay 7, 2012).

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