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In a close vote, US Senate rejects Keystone XL pipeline

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana led the latest charge to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Creative Commons: Senate Democrats, 2014

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana led the latest charge to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Creative Commons: Senate Democrats, 2014

On Tuesday, the Keystone XL pipeline fell one vote short of the 60 votes needed to move forward in the Senate.

All 45 Republican senators voted to get cloture on the measure, which would have enabled the chamber to approve the pipeline. 14 Democrats, led by Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu, also voted to approve the pipeline.

On Friday, the House of Representatives voted 252-161 in favor of a similar measure.

Landrieu spearheaded the charge to pass the pipeline during the lame-duck session, in what is widely seen as an attempt to regain the edge in her floundering reelection campaign. Louisiana voters will choose between Landrieu and Representative Bill Cassidy, her Republican challenger, in a runoff election on December 6.

The Keystone XL vote followed a grueling six-hour period of debate in the Senate chambers, where backers and opponents of the tar sands pipeline presented their arguments.

Proponents of the pipeline repeatedly touted the project as a boon to the economy, and made claims of varying accuracy about the pipeline’s effects on jobs. Meanwhile, many of those who eventually voted against the project pointed out the project put America’s economy at “real risk,” while creating “very few permanent jobs,” especially compared to the wind and solar industries, which combine to employ hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Senator Barbara Boxer of California, chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, said:

The fact of the matter is, this pipeline is going to bring filthy, dirty oil, it’s going to bring misery all across the country. Let’s look at the wind industry. [It] supports over 560 manufacturing facilities, supports over 50,000 full-time jobs in 2013 alone. And that’s 50,000 full-time jobs compared to 35 full-time jobs for the pipeline. Come on. The solar industry in 2013 employed 142,000 Americans, an increase of 24,000 additional jobs last year. This is the future, not the misery that follows the tar sands

The vote upholding the filibuster on the Keystone XL bill was hailed as a win for environmentalists, who have long opposed the construction of the tar sands conduit.

According to an environmental impact analysis conducted by the US State Department, the Keystone XL pipeline would create just 35, permanent full-time jobs.

The pipeline would also arguably speed up the rate of tar sands oil production. Tar sands oil has an outsized impact on climate change, with tar sands oil having a carbon footprint that is at least 17% larger than that of conventional oil.

Environmental advocates have also raised concerns about the possibility of a significant oil spill from the pipeline. If built, Keystone XL would pump roughly 800,000 barrels of bitumen through the American heartland and over a critical aquifer that provides nearly one-third of all water used for irrigation in the United States.

Had the Keystone XL pipeline been approved by the Senate, President Obama was widely expected to veto the bill, as approving the pipeline would not only bypass established procedure, but also upend recent progress on climate change—including the historic emissions reductions agreement negotiated with China just last week.

At last week’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, President Obama rejected arguments about Keystone’s effects on job creation and gasoline prices:

Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn’t have an impact on US gas prices. If my Republican friends really want to focus on what’s good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy. I’m happy to have that conversation.

Despite this failed attempt to push Keystone XL through the Senate, backers of the pipeline are expected to try once more to force the project’s approval early next year. Given the makeup of the next Congress, a similar bill is expected to be able to pass the House and Senate, but may still lack the support to override a presidential veto.

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