* Unclear if Senate will vote on Keystone
* Stalemate could kill bipartisan energy bill
WASHINGTON May 6 The U.S. Senate agreed on
Tuesday to begin debate on a bipartisan energy efficiency bill,
but seems unlikely to pass it unless lawmakers agree on how to
proceed with the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline project.
The Senate voted 79 to 20 to advance the legislation, the
first big energy bill to reach the Senate floor since 2007.
Offered by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and
Republican Rob Portman of Ohio, the White House-backed bill
would save energy through tougher building codes and by making
federal government offices install new technologies.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat has
offered to hold a vote on a separate bill to provide
Congressional approval of Keystone if Republicans allow passage
of the energy measure, a version of which has already passed the
House of Representatives.
But Republicans want to add several amendments to the energy
bill, including one that would take decision on TransCanada's
Corp's Keystone pipeline out of President Barack
Obama's hands and give it to Congress.
The State Department recently delayed a decision on
Keystone, likely until after the November congressional
As of mid-day Tuesday lawmakers had not yet found common
ground, and it was unclear if they would. The stalemate could
end up killing the energy bill and preventing a vote on Keystone
A Senate Republican aide said it was increasingly looking as
if talks to get a vote on Keystone had stalled.
The aide said that Republicans have concluded that the main
benefit of a Senate vote on Keystone would be to boost the
re-election campaign of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of
Landrieu has long called on the Obama administration to
approve Keystone. Some Republicans fear that such a vote in the
Senate could support her central campaign theme of being an
The pipeline would bring more than 800,000 barrels per day
from Canada's oil sands to refineries in Texas.
Environmentalists oppose Keystone because they say it would
lead to more spills and emissions linked to climate change.
Backers say it would strengthen North American energy security
and create thousands of construction jobs.
Even if Congress passes legislation to approve Keystone,
Obama could veto the measure, and likely would have the votes to
sustain a veto.
Other amendments that Republicans want to offer include one
to block new emission standards for coal-powered plants, to
allow export of liquefied natural gas, and prevent imposition of
a federal tax on carbon pollution.
Shaheen said her bill would save consumers and businesses
$16 billion a year in energy use and create jobs. The bill has
wide support from environmental groups and business groups.
"The time is now for the Senate to pass this bill," Shaheen
said on the Senate floor. "We can't let extraneous debate on
amendments to get in the way of getting this legislation done."
(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Timothy Gardner and Richard
Cowan, editing by Ros Krasny)