WASHINGTON — Approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or we'll do it for you.
That's the message Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., wants President Barack Obama to take from Friday's overwhelming bipartisan Senate votes in support of the project.
“I think it makes it clear that the president needs to move forward, and, if he doesn't, we have the votes to do it in Congress,” Hoeven said.
Pipeline opponents stressed the fact that Friday's votes possess no real legal impact, that they were on amendments to a nonbinding budget resolution. The Obama administration retains control over the pipeline's fate, at least for now.
But the fact that a filibuster-proof Senate majority gave the project a big symbolic thumbs-up left Hoeven and Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., feeling good about their efforts to force approval of the pipeline.
Both have introduced legislation that would strip the president of the decision and simply approve it.
The Senate voted 62-37 in favor of Hoeven's budget amendment endorsing the pipeline, with 17 Democrats joining all of their Republican colleagues in support.
Senators also rejected by a vote of 66-33 an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that laid out a long list of criteria for approving the project.
Because the 800,000 barrels-a-day, Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline would cross an international border, it requires State Department review and a presidential permit.
Multiple State Department studies have found that the project poses little environmental risk, but the process continues to drag on without a decision after more than four years of review and a change in the Nebraska portion of the route to avoid the state's fragile Sand Hills and Ogallala Aquifer.
There is an ongoing public comment period for the latest federal environmental impact study, but pipeline supporters such as Hoeven and Terry are pushing to get the project approved sooner.
Opponents continue to throw up red flags over the potential for oil spills and the impact on greenhouse gas emissions that they say would accelerate global climate change.
Boxer questioned how much of the pipeline's oil would be exported, how much foreign steel would be used in its construction, how many private property rights would be affected and how much it would contribute to climate change.
“How will this affect our national security — this dirty tar sands oil?” Boxer said. “American national security experts warn us against the instability worldwide caused by climate disruption.”
Hoeven said Boxer was pushing “an effort to prevent construction of the most-studied pipeline project in the history of the United States.”
Republican Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Chuck Grassley of Iowa voted in favor of the pipeline on both votes, while Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, voted against the pipeline both times.
Johanns noted the various environmental studies that have been completed and said it's time to move forward.
“There just really isn't any reason to keep holding it up,” Johanns said.
Terry has led the pro-pipeline charge in the House, which has voted repeatedly in favor of the project.
Terry's latest legislation to force approval was expected to get a floor vote before Memorial Day, but Friday's Senate action raises hopes that the timeline could be sped up, said Terry spokesman Larry Farnsworth.
That is unwelcome news to pipeline opponents such as Nebraskan Jenni Harrington, who said the pipeline would run through her family farm in northern York County — just a mile and a half from her house. She is concerned about the potential for spills, as well as the contribution to climate change.
Harrington suggested those in Washington are listening too much to the oil industry and not enough to people like her.
“We just don't feel like we can get anybody to have a conversation about the concerns we have,” she said.
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