* Baucus says won't delay transport bill for oil pipeline
* Eight Senate Democrats, 6 Republicans to haggle over bill
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, April 24 U.S. Senate Democrats
closed ranks on Tuesday to block quick approval of the Keystone
XL oil pipeline as they begin negotiations with House of
Representatives Republicans on a compromise job-creating
transportation construction bill.
Senate leaders named eight Democrats and six Republicans to
a conference committee that will hammer out differences between
a two-year, $106 billion Senate bill to fund road, bridge and
rail projects, and a House-passed 90-day extension of current
law that also includes approval of the controversial Keystone
President Barack Obama, who has put northern portions of
Keystone on hold due to environmental concerns, has threatened
to veto any bill containing the pipeline if it included an
immediate approval of the entire project.
Most Senate Democrats are opposed to including the
Canada-to-Texas pipeline in the bill, but it would only take two
of the Democratic negotiators to join Republicans to move the
project another step closer to congressional approval. It now
appears as if none will.
One Senator , Max Baucus of Montana, which stands to gain
economically from the pipeline, vo ted in favor of a similar
Keystone approval measure that was defeated by the Senate in
March. But on Tuesday his office said he was reluctant to
include it in a transportation bill compromise - especially if
it means any f ight over it would delay road construction jobs.
"No one is a bigger supporter of the Keystone pipeline than
Senator Baucus and he is looking for every opportunity to help
move the project forward," his office said in a statement.
"But Senator Baucus will not put more than 1 million
American jobs supported by the highway bill in jeopardy unless
he's sure whatever Keystone measure proposed has the legs to
pass Congress, be signed into law, and stand up to legal
scrutiny, so we don't end up delaying the project even further
by getting it tied up in the courts," the statement said.
The House's stop-gap highway bill, which contains the
Keystone measure, passed 293-127, including 69 Democratic votes
in the Republican-controlled chamber. While this is
theoretically a veto-proof majority, some Democratic congressmen
said they only voted yes to move the measure into negotiations
with the Senate.
Baucus has supported TransCanada Corp's Keystone
project because in addition to carrying Canadian oil sands crude
to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, it would also transport oil from
the Bakken shale formation in Montana and North Dakota.
A Democratic Senate leadership aide said that Baucus is the
only Senate Democratic negotiator who is seen as possibly voting
in favor of including Keystone in the transportation bill.
Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, another
state that stands to see some economic benefit from constructing
the pipeline, remains opposed to including it in the
"The senator has said that there's a process in place for
the (Obama) administration to deal with Keystone. It is not
necessary to legislate this," said Perry Plumart, Johnson's
The House-Senate talks are scheduled to start in coming
weeks. An initial transport project extension expires June 30.