Keystone XL Gets Slammed by Partisan Politics (Again)
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The Fiscal Times
May 11, 2014

It seemed for a while last week that six years of controversy over whether or not to build the transcontinental Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico might finally come to a head, with a flurry of bipartisanship pointing to an up or down vote in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), though he’s no friend of the project, seemed ready to give Republicans and a few moderate Democrats with tough reelection campaigns a vote on whether to bypass the slow-moving presidential deliberations and approve or disapprove the project. In return, Reid asked Republicans to support underlying legislation to promote energy efficiency sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH).

Related: Mutiny on the Hill: Congress Aces Out Obama over Keystone Pipeline   

Yet, negotiations collapsed last week after Reid balked at GOP efforts to load up the bill with what Reid viewed as poison-pill amendments – including one that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new greenhouse gas emission regulations on coal-burning power plants.

The Senate is scheduled to vote late Monday on whether to end debate and move ahead with the energy efficiency legislation. But aides from both parties predict the Senate will fail to muster the 60-vote super majority necessary to end the filibuster and pass the legislation – leaving the Keystone controversy and the energy efficiency legislation in limbo.

The latest impasse over the pipeline project is a familiar theme in the do-nothing 113th Congress, where bombastic rhetoric and political theatrics often pass for political discourse and serious job of legislating.

Reid compared GOP maneuvers on Keystone and the energy efficiency bill to a “shell game,” accused Republicans of “screwing around,” and dismissed GOP demands for votes on several energy amendments, Politico reported.

Related: Election-Year Shift from Reid on Keystone Pipeline Vote  

“Hey, listen … you know I am at a total loss of what they are trying to do. I can remember going to New York as a young man and they had that shell game. Boy, they were good, they could cheat you every time. That’s what happening on this bill,” Reid said in an interview.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went on a rant against what he described as Reid’s incessant political gamesmanship. He complained Reid was trying to stifle the voice of the American people “at a time when so many middle class Americans are suffering from high energy costs, lost jobs, and stagnant wages … a time when global crises clarify not just the need, but the opportunity for America to establish a greater energy presence overseas that would grow more jobs here at home.”

“Republicans are going to keep fighting, even if Senate Democrats would rather pander to the Far Left and shut down debate,” he added.

The controversy over the 1,084-mile pipeline has pitted powerful forces against one another. The petroleum industry, AFL-CIO and other labor groups, and many lawmakers who favor the $54 billion project, insist it would create tens of thousands of good jobs while pumping billions of dollars into a still struggling U.S. economy. American Petroleum Institute officials say the pipeline’s approval could “support 42,000 jobs” and “put $2 billion in workers’ pockets during its construction.”

Related: State Dept. Study Boosts Keystone Pipeline Prospects   

Pro-environment groups say the economic benefit has been vastly overstated and that once the pipeline is built, fewer than 50 permanent jobs would be connected with it in the U.S. and Canada. They also fear the possibility of oil spills and added pollution.  

Frustrated that the administration seems to be slow-walking a decision on whether to approve the pipeline past the November midterms, a bipartisan group of senators, including Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and John Hoeven (R-ND), is rallying around a bill that would effectively brush aside President Obama and authorize the project.

Landrieu, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and a handful of other moderate Democrats who face tough reelection campaigns believe the pipeline is important to their states and their political futures. They’ve been pressuring Reid to bring the project to a vote on the Senate floor before the fall elections.

Related: Keystone Pipeline: Job Creator or Environmental Menace?   

The political warfare threatens to undercut prospects for both the energy efficiency bill and the pipeline measure, which would authorize immediate construction of the project. All 45 Senate Republicans and as many as a dozen Democrats support legislation to force a decision on the project that already has passed a State Department environmental review.

The legislation co-sponsored by Shaheen and Portman seeks to boost energy efficiency in the commercial, industrial and residential sectors. Reid said that the bill is a “substantive piece of legislation” that has earned bipartisan support. But when McConnell and other GOP leaders sought assurance of votes on at least four amendments – including a vote on the pipeline and the ban on the EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants – Reid balked and used a parliamentary maneuver to block the amendments.

Aides on both sides have been working to find grounds for compromise, but “those look to be longshots at this point,” according to one aide.

“We’re still working through this trying to see if there is a resolution and trying to get some amendments brought up, ” said Ryan Bernstein, Hoeven’s chief of staff. 

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Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.