Congressional Action Spurred on Keystone Pipeline Legislation

Congressional Action Spurred on Keystone Pipeline Legislation

Hours after Congress returned from a seven week recess and a bloodbath for Democrats at the ballot box, a surprising bipartisan effort began to enact legislation to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline and send a bill to President Barack Obama’s desk as early as next week. One catalyst for the sudden movement on this stagnated project is the nation’s sole remaining undecided Senate seat: Louisiana, where Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu is facing a tough challenge from Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy in a runoff election next month after neither candidate reached the 50 percent threshold in the general election.

The Keystone XL project, which would complete the fourth phase of an existing pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, has faced opposition from environmental groups, specifically regarding some sensitive lands in Nebraska through which the pipeline would be routed. The Obama administration has held up the project for six years with the support of many Senate Democrats, including Senate President Harry Reid, who has refused to even allow debate on several bills passed by the Republican-controlled House. Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has been one of the more visible dissenters among the Democrats, introducing a bill to approve the Keystone XL project back in May. Landrieu told reporters on Wednesday, “It is time for America to become energy independent and that is impossible without the Keystone pipeline and other pipelines like it.” 

The issue is especially crucial in Louisiana, where the economy is heavily dependent on oil drilling, refining, and shipping from its ports on the Gulf of Mexico, and public opinion polls have shown majority support nationally for the project. A September 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 65 percent of Americans favored the project, versus 30 percent opposed, and this support carried across gender, political, and geographic lines, with majorities of men (69%), women (61%), Democrats (51%), Republicans (82%), independents (64%), and Americans from the Northeast (64%), Midwest (66%), South (68%), and West (58%), all favoring the project. The only subgroup that did not show majority support was Democrats who also identified themselves as liberal (41% supported versus 54% opposed). The Pew poll was an improvement over a March 2012 Gallup poll, where 57 percent of Americans said the government should approve the project, compared to 29 percent who said it should not be approved. Partisan breakdown showed 81 percent of Republicans, 51 percent of independents, an 44 percent of Democrats were in favor. A January 2014 Rasmussen poll of likely voters showed that 57 percent favored building the Keystone XL pipeline, including 32 percent who strongly supported it, and 28 percent were opposed.

Reuters has reported that Landrieu admitted that she has been unable to get a commitment from Obama that he would support her bill or other similar legislation, and there has been no indication from the White House that he might waver. “The administration has taken a dim view of these kinds of legislative proposals in the past,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “It’s fair to say that our dim view of these kinds of proposals has not changed. Evaluating those earlier proposals, we have indicated that the president’s senior advisers at the White House have recommended that he veto legislation like that, and that has continued to be our position.”

Cassidy also filed his own bill in the House that was very similar to Landrieu’s bill. The House started debating the bill on Thursday and has scheduled a vote for Friday, according to Reuters. The Senate is expected to take up Landrieu’s bill next week, possibly on Tuesday. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) criticized Senate Democrats for failing to move forward with a vote on the pipeline until now, saying in a statement that “the House remains committed to legislation that harnesses energy resources to create jobs and increase the standard of living for all Americans, and tomorrow’s vote will reinforce that resolve.”

The runoff election between Landrieu and Cassidy is scheduled for December 6th, and the Wall Street Journal has reported that Cassidy is leading Landrieu in the latest polling of the race.

Photo Credit: TransCanada Corporation.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.