The U.S. Senate defeated a bill to authorize construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, delivering a blow to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., by members of her own party…
The bill failed to overcome a 60-vote threshold for passage by a narrow 59-41 decision. All 45 Republican senators voted for it, but Landrieu could not clinch the necessary last Democratic vote.
Thirteen Democrats voted with Landrieu, including outgoing Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and John Walsh of Montana. Additional Democratic votes came from Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Landrieu is locked in a Dec. 6 runoff against GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy. The pipeline vote has become a political issue in the race, where the state's oil and gas industry is supportive of the pipeline's construction and both candidates are avid supporters. The 1,200-mile proposed crude-oil pipeline would help connect existing pipelines from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
FOX 31's Eli Stokols has more on the split vote by Colorado's two Senators, with outgoing Sen. Mark Udall cancelling out Sen. Michael Bennet's "yes":
“Senator Bennet voted in support of the Landrieu bill,” Bozzi said. “He would prefer that instead of focusing our political debate on a narrow issue that we develop a broad and comprehensive energy strategy to reduce carbon pollution and support renewable energy. He believes we should take aggressive action to curb climate change and support the President’s Climate Action Plan.”
Bennet’s decision to vote with 13 other Democrats and all senate Republicans only strengthens his centrist credentials, which serve him well in a purple state like Colorado, although conservationist Democrats weren’t pleased about it.
“We applaud Senator Udall for opposing the pipeline and are disappointed that Senator Bennet supported this ill conceived project,” said Conservation Colorado’s Pete Maysmith. [Pols emphasis]
As we've discussed in this space when the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline has come up in Colorado politics, there's an enormous amount of hype surrounding this issue, most of it from the energy industry but a little from the left as well. The claims from Sen.-elect Cory Gardner this year that the pipeline would create thousands of jobs in Colorado were just silly–the pipeline never enters our state, and Colorado's fully employed oil and gas industry is short of qualified workers as it is. In terms of jobs across the country, the temporary construction jobs the pipeline would create give way to just a few dozen positions needed to actually operate the pipeline once it's built. As for economic benefit for Colorado from the oil to be shipped via the Keystone XL, there isn't any: we already have a pipeline from Alberta to Commerce City, and the routing of more Canadian supplies to the Gulf Coast for export (which is what the Keystone XL is actually for, in case you didn't know) is expected to result in an increase in gas prices in Colorado and the central United States.
We prefer to stick with these practical economic arguments as they're in our experience the most broadly accepted–but from here you can certainly get into issues like the environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska the pipeline is set to cross, or the role this vast supply of dirty Canadian tar sands could play in global climate change. The bottom line is, any way you slice it there's very little real incentive for Coloradans to support the Keystone XL pipeline. On the other hand, we don't see the Keystone XL as the end of the world, either–it's the fourth stage of a project that already connects Canadian oil supplies to American and export markets.
So why did Sen. Michael Bennet vote for the pipeline yesterday? He's come out previously as a supporter, but it needs to be kept in mind that the whole purpose of yesterday's misguided exercise was to provide political cover to endangered Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Facing likely defeat in a runoff next month, Landrieu has unapologetically banked her political survival on getting the Keystone XL bill through the Senate, even though President Barack Obama had already promised to veto it. The political wisdom of this was always dubious in our view, but Harry Reid scheduled the vote–and as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), it's not like Bennet would have left her hanging.
The only thing we can add looking ahead is, Stokols' "Big Oil love is good Colorado politics" presumption is not something we would count on beyond the rare figures who have able to pull it off–Gov. John Hickenlooper comes to mind with some obvious caveats, or former Interior Secretary Ken "Land, Water, and People" Salazar. As polling over this year's abortive local control ballot measures showed, there is a great deal of concern about the issue among Colorado voters, and it's not going away. We're in no position to predict what will happen on energy in Colorado over the next two years, but this won't be the last chance for Bennet to weigh in.
Next time he does, we hope to see less defensiveness and more, you know, vision.