U.S. Senate Defeats Keystone XL Pipeline Bill, but the Fight Is Far From Over

Republicans will reintroduce the legislation when they take control of the Senate—will Democrats join them?

(Photo: Andrew Cullen/Reuters)

Nov 18, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

The United States Senate’s defeat Tuesday of a bill that would have approved construction of the controversial Keystone Xl pipeline will be a short-lived victory for environmentalists.

Very short.

In January, the Republicans take control of the Senate and are sure to reintroduce the legislation, which has been passed several times by the GOP-dominated House of Representatives.

The pipeline, to be built by Canadian company Transcanada, would transport greenhouse gas–intensive tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and its defeat has become the No. 1 priority of many environmentalists fighting climate change. (A report issued in August by Stockholm Environmental Institute, a scientific research organization established by the Swedish government, found that Keystone XL would result in carbon emissions four times higher than the U.S. State Department had previously estimated.)

The real question, then, is whether Republicans can muster the 67 votes in the Senate needed to override a certain presidential veto.

They will need Democrats to cross the aisle, as 14 did on Tuesday when they joined 45 Republicans in voting to approve the pipeline. (Though pro-pipeline forces mustered 59 votes, they fell one vote short of the 60 necessary to make the bill filibuster-proof.) But persuading those Democrats to join the GOP in overriding a presidential veto on an issue President Barack Obama has been grappling with—or dodging, depending on your view—for years is no sure thing.

Obama has insisted that the State Department will make the decision on Keystone XL, as it has jurisdiction over projects that cross the U.S. border.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, kept the pressure on the administration Tuesday even as they celebrated the Senate victory.

“Since day one, the decision on the pipeline has belonged to President Obama, and he has repeatedly said he will reject this pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. “As there is no doubt that it does, we remain confident that is precisely what he’ll do.”