The Obama administration’s latest Keystone XL delay is having an unintended consequence: the revival of the effort in Congress to circumvent the White House by forcing approval of the project.
While a plurality of U.S. senators are on record supporting Keystone, no bill relating to the pipeline, other than a nonbinding resolution, has passed in the chamber. That’s because some Democrats who back it haven’t wanted to usurp President Barack Obama ’s authority to make the final call.
“We’ll have to start counting noses again,” first-term Sen. Heidi Heitkamp , a North Dakota Democrat, said after the State Department announced last week it was again delaying a recommendation. “Now that this process has taken a turn for the worse, I think we need to have those discussions again.”
Forcing approval remains a heavy lift -- backers acknowledge that they still are a few votes short of the 60 needed to advance a bill in the 100-member Senate.
It would require two-thirds of the Senate -- or 67 members -- to override an almost certain presidential veto. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in charge of the agenda and a pipeline foe, has declined to bring up legislation that would bypass Obama on Keystone.
“The simplest path for Keystone XL remains the State Department,” which has all the information it needs to find the pipeline is in the nation’s interest to build, said Andy Black , CEO of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, a Washington-based group whose members include TransCanada Corp. (NYSE: TRP), the Calgary-based company that proposed Keystone.
Black said at a Bloomberg government breakfast April 23 in Washington that he was “disappointed” by the administration’s delay.
Sen. John Hoeven , a North Dakota Republican, said supporters are determined to try to advance legislation. His office has reached out to Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a Democratic backer of the project and the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to plot a strategy once members return next week from a two-week break.
“There is going to be a strong push,” to advance a bill, Hoeven said.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has already passed similar measures by broad majorities.
The Department of State is leading an interagency review of TransCanada’s proposal to build a $5.4 billion pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb. From there, it would connect to an existing network of pipelines that extends