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Senate rejects Keystone XL pipeline despite backing from Blunt, McCaskill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 8, 2012 - WASHINGTON – In a vote closely watched by industry and environmental groups, both of Missouri’s senators backed an unsuccessful amendment Thursday that would have allowed Congress to bypass the White House in approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“When it comes to the Keystone pipeline, it’s not a matter of if it’s going to be built, it’s a matter of when and where,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who went counter to appeals from the White House to vote no. In a statement, she added that “moving forward with the pipeline means good jobs for American workers.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he backed the Keystone project because “more American energy means more American jobs. At a time when nearly 13 million people are out of work, gas prices are skyrocketing and the Middle East is in turmoil, it is incomprehensible that the president and Senate Democrats would continue to stand in the way of the largest shovel-ready project in our country today.”

The amendment to the surface transportation bill, sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., would have allowed Congress to approve the pipeline without specific presidential approval. Obama, who had rejected the initial Keystone application in January, urged senators to oppose the amendment, which got 56 votes — only four short of the required supermajority. The 42 opponents included Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., did not vote; he is still recovering from a stroke.

Backers of the Keystone XL, which would be built by the Canada-based TransCanada Corp., include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, along with several unions. Environmental groups have opposed the Keystone XL, warning of damage to the environment and greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands.

Shortly before that vote, McCaskill and Durbin also supported — but Blunt opposed — another Keystone amendment offered by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that failed by a margin of 64-34. The measure would have linked speedier review of the Keystone XL application to assurances that all the oil transported by the pipeline would stay in this country, rather than be exported. TransCanada has said most — but not all — of the oil would be refined here.

In yet another vote Thursday that was closely watched by industry and environmental groups, McCaskill and Blunt backed an amendment by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would have delayed and somewhat eased the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on industrial boilers and incinerators — the “Boiler MACT” rules — that aim to reduce harmful air pollutants, such as mercury and soot. The Collins effort failed 52-46, with Durbin voting no.

The amendment would have given the EPA an additional 15 months to propose new “achievable” rules that are the “least burdensome” on industry. Collins contended that the measure “simply gives the EPA more time to get these regulations right and our struggling manufacturers more time to comply with them.”

But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, argued against the amendment, contending that the pollutants released by such boilers are harmful to the health of people who live near them. “We have studies that show ... we will have 8,100 premature deaths, and talk about jobs — 400,000 lost work days per year if this becomes law," Boxer said.

The Senate expects to complete work on its extension of the nation’s surface transportation programs next week.

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