* Democrats kill measure which needed 60 votes
* Obama called some senators and asked them to vote 'No'
* Plan to ban exports from pipeline also defeated
By Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, March 8 U.S. Senate Democrats
on Thursday defeated a Republican proposal to take quick action
on the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, in a vote that will give
Republicans more ammunition to criticize President Barack
Obama's energy policies on the campaign trail.
TransCanada's $7 billion project has been supported
by some Democrats in the past, but Obama took the unusual step
of calling some senators personally and asking them to vote
against the proposal, drawing immediate fire from Republican
The measure needed 60 votes to pass, but fell four short.
Obama put the project on hold earlier this year pending
further environmental review. Republicans argue the pipeline,
which would ship oil from Canada and northern U.S. states to
Texas, would create jobs and improve energy security at a time
of surging gasoline prices. The project will take more than two
years to build after winning all approvals.
By proposing the amendment, Republicans sought to wrest the
approval process from Obama's control. They have also used the
proposal to highlight his decision ahead of November
presidential and congressional elections, linking his delaying
of the pipeline project to rising gasoline prices.
"At a moment when millions are out of work, gas prices are
sky-rocketing and the Middle East is in turmoil, we've got a
president who's up making phone calls trying to block a pipeline
here at home. It's unbelievable," said Senate Minority Leader
Obama has supported construction of the southern leg of the
pipeline, and his administration will assess a new route around
an environmentally sensitive area of Nebraska once it has been
identified, White House spokesman Clark Stevens said.
"Once again, Republicans are trying to play politics with a
pipeline project whose route has yet to be proposed," Stevens
The Keystone amendment was among 30 measures - many of them
energy-related - being voted on as the Senate pushes in coming
days to renew funding for highways and other infrastructure
projects, slated to run out at the end of March.
Earlier, the Senate also defeated proposals to expand the
area available for offshore oil drilling and extend the time for
manufacturers to phase in new pollution regulations set by the
Environmental Protection Agency for industrial boilers.
But the Keystone amendment attracted the most attention.
The pipeline would carry crude from Canadian oil sands to Texas
refineries and would also pick up U.S. crude from North Dakota
and Montana along the way.
With a 34-64 vote, senators also defeated a proposal from
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden that would have blocked exports of
oil from the pipeline, as well as refined products made from the
Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, who had championed the
Republican plan to advance the pipeline, said the restrictions
in the Democratic alternative would have blocked the project.