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Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota
(National Governors Association)
The Senate shot down another attempt to make an end run around the Obama administration's rejection of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline in a vote Thursday afternoon. The amendment failed on a 56-42 vote, failing to obtain the 60 votes needed for passage under special consideration rules.

All Republican senators but the two who were not present supported the amendment. The nay votes were all Democratic. But 11 Democrats voted in favor: Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jim Webb of Virginia.

The amendment, S. 1537, would have allowed Congress to circumvent the presidential permitting process set up by executive order under President George W. Bush to make sure that international pipelines are only built when the U.S. national interest is at stake and safety, health and environmental rules are met.

It would have exempted the pipeline from further federal environmental review even though builder TransCanada has said it will still be a few weeks before it resubmits its permit application with a new route through Nebraska. The original route was the focus of broad-based opposition because it would have run through the marshy Nebraska Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region where the massive Ogallala Aquifer rises near the surface. That aquifer feeds the agricultural needs of eight states. Its possible contamination from a pipeline spill is a key concern of pipeline foes.

As Tony Swift has noted, the amendment would have:

put enormous amounts of pressure on Nebraska as it conducts its review. Last November, as Nebraska’s Senate considered enacting a pipeline routing law in a special session, TransCanada’s attorneys threatened the state with expensive lawsuits if it did anything to interfere with the company’s plans or timeline. President Obama’s decision to delay the process relieved much of the pressure that Nebraska was under.
By means of an amendment to the payroll tax bill in December, Hoeven previously tried to go around the administration over Keystone by putting a 60-day deadline on the president's timing for a decision on the pipeline. Obama said that arbitrary deadline did not give him enough time to review the State Department's recommendation that the cross-border pipeline should be rejected. Consequently, he turned it down to shrieks from Republicans and somewhat milder critiques from Democrats, such as Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who support the pipeline.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 02:05 PM PST.

Also republished by Good News and Daily Kos.

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