With a bipartisan majority vote of 62-37, the Senate demonstrated its support for Keystone XL pipeline construction for the first time.

On March 22, the US Senate voted in favor of an amendment that supports construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL project, a 1,700-mile pipeline that would transport crude oil from Canada to Texas refineries. The amendment, introduced by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Max Baucus (D-Montana), passed the Senate by a 62-37 margin, with 17 Democrats joining all Republicans in the vote of support. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) abstained from the vote due to illness. Sens. Hoeven and Baucus also have proposed a separate bill that would facilitate Congressional approval of the project under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, bypassing the decision-making authority of President Obama.

US environmental groups have long opposed Keystone XL pipeline, citing potential climate change and oil spill threats. President Obama denied a permit in January 2012 on grounds of environmental concerns. Nebraska has been a prime conflict zone as the initial pipeline route involved environmentally sensitive regions. Subsequently, TransCanada proposed a reroute and reapplied for a permit. In January of 2013, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved TransCanada’s new Nebraska route based on a Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality report, which stated the project would have minimal environmental impact with appropriate safety measures. On March 1, 2013, the US State Department released its draft environmental assessment report on the pipeline, finding that rejecting the pipeline would not affect development of Canadian oil sands or heavy crude refining on the Gulf Coast. Once published, a 45-day public comment period will begin.

Though non-binding, the Senate action is indicative of its formal endorsement of Keystone XL pipeline as an energy infrastructure project that could hold positive implications for the nation’s economic growth.

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