Emboldened Republicans to strike early on Keystone pipeline approval

Wed Nov 5, 2014 3:30pm EST
 
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By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON Nov 5 (Reuters) - Senate Republicans will charge ahead early in 2015 with a bill to approve the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, a move that would back President Barack Obama into a corner and set the tone for how the party taking control of Congress will govern the next two years.

The $8 billion project, which would deliver heavy Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to Nebraska and make it easier to deliver oil from North Dakota's Bakken region to the U.S. Gulf Coast, has languished for six years awaiting presidential approval, which is needed because the pipeline crosses a national border.

Legislation earlier this year to approve the pipeline in a proposed end-run around the administration already had an estimated 57 votes in the 100-member Senate, and is now thought to have a filibuster-proof 61 votes after Republican gains in Tuesday's mid-term elections.

In addition, Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, who has authored several Keystone bills in the past, will propose a new bill for Congress to use the Foreign Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to green light the pipeline without the need for presidential approval.

"I've got a bill right now that's got about 56 co-sponsors," Hoeven, who has fought for years in Congress to advance such a bill, told Reuters. "And with the election results, we'll have over 60 who clearly support the legislation."

Shares in TransCanada, the builder and owner of the XL and other branches of the Keystone pipeline system, rose as much as about 3 percent on Wednesday on renewed optimism that the pipeline will finally go ahead.

Political observers look for Mitch McConnell, the expected new Senate Majority Leader, to quickly back a Keystone bill because it has bipartisan votes and the support of key constituencies, such as organized labor.

Several Democrats who have previously supported the pipeline, such as Hoeven's North Dakota counterpart Heidi Heitkamp, are likely to sign on. Democrats Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both from Delaware, have also indicated previously that they support the pipeline.   Continued...