Midterm election results: Good news for Keystone XL pipeline

Republicans captured the Senate in Tuesday's elections, setting the stage for the GOP to push major energy issues – including approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. And with support from moderate Senate Democrats, Keystone likely has the support to make it through Congress.

Cliff Owen/AP
House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio smiles during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, Nov. 6. Boehner said the Republican-controlled Congress will act to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

The US Republican Party has reason to celebrate Tuesday’s victories at the polls. Not only will they now control both the Senate and the House of Representatives when Congress reconvenes in January, but they also can legislate Congress’ approval of the much-stalled Keystone XL pipeline and perhaps force President Obama to sign the bill.

The bill is now undergoing a protracted study by the State Department because the pipeline, carrying Canadian oil sands, would originate in a foreign country before moving south through the US Midwest to Texas’ Gulf of Mexico coast. Further, Obama has expressed ambivalence about the project because it could contribute more greenhouse gases to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Support for the Keystone XL is a given in the House, which has voted several times to approve it. But having won control of the Senate for the first time in eight years, Republicans now will have enough support from Democrats to avoid a filibuster. They may even be able to cobble together enough votes to override a veto from Obama. (Related: $15 Billion in Pipeline Projects Coming to Appalachia in 2015)

Under a filibuster, opponents of legislation in the Senate could merely threaten to extend debate on the issue indefinitely, ultimately preventing a vote. It takes 60 votes of the 100-member Senate to end such a filibuster, and it takes a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto.

Before the Nov. 4 congressional elections, 57 Senators supported approval of Keystone XL, including 12 Democrats. With at least four more Republican senators (and four fewer Democrats) in the Senate, that total now will be 61, just enough to prevent a Democratic filibuster.

As for making approval veto-proof, the GOP can solicit the votes of four more Democrats who previously have supported a weaker, non-binding resolution backing the pipeline. If that works, the GOP would have 65 votes, two shy of the 67 needed to override a veto. They could reach that number if they were willing to add inducements to the bill.

Even without veto-proof support for Keystone XL, strong approval from both houses of Congress would put enormous political pressure on Obama to sign the measure despite his environmental reservations. Further, about 60 percent of Americans polled say they’re in favor of the pipeline. (Related: Breakthrough In Oil Sands Waste Treatment)

 

Obama’s also torn by a split among groups that form the base of his own party. On the one hand, environmentalists press the argument on emissions, while labor unions say construction of Keystone XL would create jobs.

“I think first order of business is to pass it out of House, Senate, and then finally force the president to make a decision on it,” one anonymous Republican aide told Politico. If Obama vetoed it, the aide said, he would kill a widely popular project and force the GOP to work for veto-proof support in the Senate.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, doesn’t think the Senate will have to fight that hard. “I actually think the president will sign the bill on the Keystone pipeline because I think the pressure – he’s going to be boxed in on that, and I think it’s going to happen,” he said Nov. 4.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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