The Senate voted 62 to 37 Friday in favor of constructing the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial project that would transport heavy crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to Gulf Coast’s refineries.
The bipartisan amendment to the Senate budget resolution, authored by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), has no binding authority. But it shows the significant support the proposal enjoys on Capitol Hill, despite the fact that opponents argue its construction will accelerate global warming and could cause harmful oil spills on ecologically-sensitive habitat.
The 17 Democrats who voted yes included every single possibly vulnerable incumbent facing reelection next year, from 34-year veteran Baucus to first-term Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska).
Perhaps more importantly, Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, voted for the resolution. Bennet is not up for re-election until 2016, but his post requires him to raise money from the wealthy liberal community that is highly opposed to the pipeline.
Additionally, a crop of Democrats who survived difficult reelections in 2012 -- Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) -- all supported the GOP Keystone amendment.
“Budgets are about priorities and right now our number one priority needs to be creating jobs,” Baucus said in a statement. “Approving the Keystone Pipeline is the perfect opportunity to put Americans to work right now. American workers cannot afford to wait any longer for Keystone jobs, and there is absolutely no excuse for further delay.”
It is unclear how much the vote will influence President Obama, whose administration is still considering TransCanada’s permit application to cross the Canada-U.S. border. The State Department recently issued a draft environmental impact statement suggesting the oil sands would get developed even if Obama vetoed the permit, but environmentalists have challenged that analysis.
The department will have to finalize that assessment, and then determine whether the project serves the U.S. national interest, before the administration makes a final decision.
“Big Oil may have bought themselves this meaningless vote, but the decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline remains where it’s been all along – with Secretary Kerry and President Obama,” said League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski in a statement. “The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward, risking massive oil spills on American waterways so this company can ship oil to places like China.”
Staff writers Paul Kane and Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.