The U.S. Senate rejected a bill to speed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to run from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, in a Tuesday evening vote. But Republicans are already promising to reintroduce the bill when they take two-house control of Congress in January.
The motion needed 60 votes in favour to pass. The bill failed after 59 senators voted in favour and 41 were against.
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All 45 Senate Republicans voted in favour of the legislation. They were joined by only 14 Democrats and allied Independents.
As the vote total was announced, protesters disrupted the Senate session with First Nations-style singing and chants. Earlier, protesters crashed the offices of senators who were set to vote on the issue.
Bill 2280 would have authorized Calgary-based TransCanada Corp., the company behind the project, "to construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline and cross-border facilities" as specified in an application the company filed in 2012.
Prior to the vote, 59 senators had publicly voiced support and the hunt was on for the 60th vote needed to advance the measure.
Even if passed, the bill was not expected to pass muster with U.S. President Barack Obama, who had hinted strongly he would veto the bill, which is designed to short-circuit the White House's own environmental review process.
Another vote expected in 2015
Keystone XL, a political football almost since its inception six years ago, would transport bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The question of its approval is now expected to resurface in the new year.
The pipeline was approved last week for the ninth time by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, but faced a tougher test in the Senate, which is still controlled by Democrats until a new session begins next year.
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That's when the pro-Keystone Republicans will take over control of the Senate, wrested from the Democrats in midterm elections earlier this month.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the incoming majority leader, said within minutes of the vote, "I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone jobs bill early in the new year."
In early November elections, pro-Keystone Republicans defeated anti-Keystone Democrats in several Senate races giving Republicans a majority of seats. Their majority coupled with support from pro-Keystone Democratic Party senators will likely provide enough votes to pass a similar bill.
Senator John Hoeven plans to reintroduce it in January or February.
Canada disappointed by U.S. decision delay
Canada expressed disappointment that U.S. politics continued to delay a final decision, Minister of Natural Resources Greg Rickford said in a statement.
"This project will create jobs, long-term economic prosperity, energy security and environmental stewardship on both sides of our shared border," Rickford said.
The pipeline has "strong public support" and is "environmentally sound," he argued, adding it would replace insecure sources of crude oil.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice also expressed his disappointment in the U.S. decision, but said he is looking forward to the next Congress.
"I'm certain that the process will carry on at that point," he said, noting the Senate will be more heavily Republican.
"This is not the end of the process, it’s a step along the way. And one might expect once the new members of the U.S Congress, Senate, are sworn in, that this matter will commence anew."
TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling said the vote showed "a growing and high level of support" for the pipeline among U.S. policy makers.
"We will continue to push for reason over gridlock, common sense over symbolism and solid science over rhetoric to approve Keystone XL and unlock its benefits for America," he said in a written statement.
TransCanada touts job creation
Last week, Rickford disputed Obama's claims that Keystone XL would have a negligible positive impact on the U.S. economy.
"We share the view of the U.S. State Department in this regard: that there is a solid environmental and business case for this pipeline to go forward. There are compelling statistics in particular that tell us this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he said in Ottawa.
TransCanada also countered Obama's statement, saying it would promote job creation with tens of thousands of U.S. construction jobs.
Senator Barbara Boxer argued in the debate prior to the vote that the jobs the project would create are not worth the environmental impact the pipeline would have on the small communities along the route.
She showed a photo of a little girl wearing an oxygen mask and called the project "the Keystone extra lethal pipeline."
Senator John Hoeven argued in support of the pipeline, saying it has taken too long to approve the project. He said it was necessary to build the infrastructure to support an energy plan for the U.S.