Proponents of a measure that would approve the construction of a section of a pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico failed to get enough votes in the U.S. Senate to pass it, marking another chapter in years-long debate that put the Obama White House on the defensive.
The pipeline measure needed 60 votes for approval — the final vote Tuesday was 59 yeas and 41 nos.
Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu led the charge for passage, joined by all Senate Republicans. Democrats and Republicans agreed to hold a vote on the issue after the recent midterm elections. Senate Democrats attempted to hold a Keystone vote earlier this year, but Republicans blocked an agreement that would have led to that vote.
Neither Landrieu nor her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, got enough votes to prevent a Dec. 6 runoff. Approval of the pipeline is widely seen as a bid to boost Landrieu’s chances at winning the runoff, in which she is currently trailing in polls.
While the White House didn’t commit to a decision on vetoing the bill had it passed the Senate (it passed the House last week), the Obama administration has not been eager to approve the pipeline. Because the pipeline crosses the border with Canada, the State Department and the White House have authority over approving its construction. That approval process has been in the works for six years.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made it clear Congress isn’t done with the issue.
“Once the 114th Congress convenes, the Senate will act again on this important legislation, and I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone jobs bill early in the New Year,” he said in a statement immediately following the vote.
The debate over whether the president will allow the construction of one section of this pipeline through several Great Plains states has become a big topic on Capitol Hill. The House, led by Republicans, has voted nine times to approve the project. While Republicans and some Democrats like Landrieu cite the pipeline as a jobs project, Democrats are largely opposed; many fear the negative environmental impact of the use of the tar sands oil that will travel through the pipe.
Some of the big claims from the supporters and detractors don’t stand up to some of the research done by the government on the project.
A State Department review found that the project would create 42,000 jobs during a hypothetical two-year construction period. But afterward, just 50 permanent jobs would be created from its construction.
The Washington Post points out that the U.S. economy produces about 7,000 jobs a day.
And the State Department found in its environmental analysis that construction of this particular pipe section would have little impact on climate change because the tar sands oil in Canada would be extracted and delivered one way or another.
But on Capitol Hill, politics often matters most. So while the project, if eventually approved by the president, won’t likely create many permanent jobs or make a big difference to climate change — it has been useful as a political vehicle for Democrats and Republicans alike.