WASHINGTON, DC — The Democratic-controlled Senate rejected legislation Tuesday aimed at forcing completion of a Canada-to Texas oil pipeline, a massive project at the center of a fierce environmental dispute.
Republicans, fresh from sweeping midterm election victories, vowed resurrect the controversial issue next year, when they will control both chambers of the new Congress that takes office in January. That would potentially spark a veto confrontation with President Barack Obama, who opposes the bill.
The Senate voted 59-41 in favor of the legislation, but it needed 60 votes to reach the White House. The Republican-controlled House had passed it overwhelmingly last week.
The Keystone XL pipeline has divided Democrats, with the White House strongly signaling Tuesday that Obama would veto the bill if it clears Congress. Likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, has repeatedly refused to take a position.
The project would move oil from Canada into the United States and eventually to the Gulf Coast. Supporters say it would create jobs and ease American dependence on Middle East oil. A government environmental impact statement also predicts that a pipeline would result in less damage to the climate than moving the same oil by rail.
Critics argue that the drilling itself is environmentally harmful, and said much of the Canadian crude would be exported with little or no impact on America’s drive for energy stability.
Delays in approving the pipeline have caused friction between the U.S. and Canada, which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production.
The languishing legislation suddenly received new life this month as both parties hoped to boost their prospects in a runoff election in oil rich-Louisiana state for the last unresolved Senate seat from the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, facing an uphill battle to keep her seat in the Dec. 6 runoff, had pushed for the vote and beseeched fellow Democrats to support the pipeline, ultimately coming up one vote short.
All 45 Senate Republicans supported the legislation. Only 14 of 55 Democrats and allied independents joined them, a total that didn’t budge despite an appeal delivered by Landrieu behind closed doors a few hours before the vote.
It was a severe blow for the Louisiana Democrat in her race against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who sponsored an identical bill that the House easily passed Friday. However, the outcome of Louisiana’s race will not affect control of the Senate next year because the Republicans are assured of 53 of the chamber’s 100 seats.
The proposed pipeline would run 1,179 miles (1,897 kilometers) from the Canadian tar sands to U.S. Gulf coast refineries. It has been at the center of a struggle since Calgary-based TransCanada proposed it in 2008. The most recent delay was caused by a lawsuit filed in Nebraska over its proposed route.
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the measure is something “the president doesn’t support because the president believes that this is something that should be determined through the State Department and the regular process that is in place to evaluate projects like this.”
In political terms, Republicans looked like they were in a win-win position, assured of dividing Democrats no matter the outcome, and in a position to force Obama to veto the legislation in the new year if it comes to that.
“I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone jobs bill early in the new year,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader.