By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, March 22 The Senate easily passed on
Friday a symbolic measure approving the Canada to Texas Keystone
XL oil pipeline, a move backers said showed strong support for a
bill that would give Congress power to green light the project
later in the year.
The amendment to the budget plan, sponsored by Senator John
Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, passed 62 to 37.
It was symbolic because the budget is a blueprint that will
not become law. But the measure was selected out of hundreds of
others for a vote and was approved by a strong majority in the
100-seat chamber led by Democrats.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters earlier this
month that the approval process for pipelines crossing
international borders belongs with the State Department.
The State Department must finalize an environmental
assessment. Then it will have 90 days to decide whether the
project is in the country's interest.
President Barack Obama is expected to make a final decision
on the pipeline late this summer.
The pipeline permit has been pending for nearly five years
and supporters of the project say they cannot risk more
"I think it shows strong support for the project," Hoeven
said in an interview. "I think where we are is the president
needs to move forward and approve it, and I think if he doesn't,
we've shown there's approval to do it Congressionally."
The budget passed by the House of Representatives this week
also authorized construction of the pipeline.
Minutes before the vote on Hoeven's amendment another
measure to study Keystone further, sponsored by Barbara Boxer,
the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee, was defeated 33 to 66.
TransCanada Corp's more than 800,000-barrel-per-day
pipeline would link Canada's oil sands, the world's third
richest oil deposit, with refineries in Texas.
Last week, Hoeven and Montana Democrat Max Baucus introduced
a bill that would give Congress the power to approve the
pipeline, taking it away from the Obama administration. There is
a similar bill in the House of Representatives and both could be
voted on later in the spring.
Hoeven's bill claims Congress has the authority to approve
the TransCanada pipeline under the Commerce Clause of the U.S.
Constitution. Lawyers at the non-partisan Congressional Research
Service wrote an analysis last year that said Congress would
likely be within its Constitutional authority if it chose to
Supporters of the $5.3-billion pipeline say it would
increase North American energy security and pour capital into
the economy. Environmentalists say the pipeline would increase
emissions of greenhouse gases.
Pipeline opponents said the amendment was a futile effort.
"The only thing today's nonbinding, symbolic vote
underscores on Keystone XL is the fact that this is President
Obama's decision alone," said Becky Bond, of CREDO, the activist
arm of the CREDO mobile network.
Hoeven's larger bill would likely need 60 votes to pass. Its
supporters may try to attach it to must-pass legislation that
Obama would find hard to veto.
Hoeven tried to pass legislation that would allow Congress
to approve Keystone last year, but it was short four votes.