In a big symbolic victory for proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Senate on Friday approved a measure introduced by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to approve its construction. Though non-binding, the vote marks the most recent attempt by Republicans to pressure President Barack Obama to move forward with the controversial project.
Hoeven's Amendment 494 to the 2013 budget resolution passed Friday evening by a vote of 62 to 37. The amendment puts the Senate on record for the first time in support of the Keystone XL, the 1,700 mile pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada to oil refineries in Texas.
"The Department of State has done four environmental impact assessments over the past five years," said Hoeven as he rose to introduce his measure. "It's time that the Senate step up with the American people ... time for us to join every single state on the route to say we support this pipeline."
The vote was part of the Senate's "votearama" -- a legislative quirk in which lawmakers take strictly symbolic votes as a way of opening up dialogue. The process, while tedious, offers a glimpse of senators' feelings and priorities on the issues at hand.
The Democrats who supported the legislation -- most of them vulnerable incumbents facing tough reelection races next year -- include Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke out against the measure on the Senate floor. "This amendment has already made the decision for us that everything is hunky-dory with this pipline," she said. "We don't know if our national security -- people think that dirty tar sands is going to create climate disruption ... there'll be another day to fight, but I want to say ... I hope we will vote no and allow the process to continue."
Boxer introduced her own counter-amendment -- Amendment 622 -- which would create a fund to protect U.S. interests in the Keystone XL decision. Hoeven called it merely "an excuse to kill the project." Boxer's measure was voted down 33 to 66.
Bill Mckibben, founder of climate advocacy group 350.org, denounced the Senate's vote.
"The fossil fuel industry asked the Senate to approve Keystone XL, but ordinary people around the country pushed back -- our 'leaders' ended up taking a meaningless vote instead, and giving us more months to convince the president not to sign off on this boondoggle," he said. "Everything that happens in D.C. happens ugly, and this is no exception -- but it's been beautiful to watch people rallying around the continent."
Over the coming two weeks, 350.org will be targeting the senators who voted to approve the pipeline, according to a press release.
The co-sponsors for Hoeven's amendment include Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).