Senate May Bypass White House And Approve Keystone XL Pipeline

The Senate is expected to vote soon on the controversial pipeline. Supporters introduced the bill after the White House put its approval process on hold indefinitely because of a legal dispute.

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. The Keystone XL oil pipeline likely will come up for a vote in the United States Senate soon. The Obama administration has put off a decision on that project indefinitely. Before saying yes or no, the White House wants to resolve a dispute over the pipeline route in Nebraska. That delay has prompted Keystone XL supporters in the Senate to introduce their own plan. It would bypasses the White House and approve the project directly. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The Senate bill would give the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, permission to build and operate the project. Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is one of the sponsors. Speaking on the Senate floor, she said the Keystone XL has been studied and debated for more than five years - much longer than it took to plan and build other big infrastructure projects.

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: The Hoover Dam, it took five years to complete.

BRADY: Landrieu also mentioned the Pentagon and the Space Shuttle Discovery. She says building a pipeline that moves oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast shouldn't take longer than these other projects.

LANDRIEU: This is not anything new. We've been doing this in America for a long time. It is time to stop studying and stop waiting and start building this Keystone XL pipeline.

BRADY: Landrieu says the pipeline is needed to boost the country's economy and provide jobs. And she says it's better to get oil from Canada than from countries that aren't as friendly. Those arguments don't address one of the big concerns over the pipeline, that it will give oil from Canada's tar sands access to lucrative markets.

Many critics would prefer the oil stay in the ground, because this type of crude requires a lot of energy to make it usable. Producing it emits more environmentally damaging greenhouse gasses than traditional drilling does. But oil is big business in Landrieu's state, and Jane Kleeb with the group Bold Nebraska points out this is an election year.

JANE KLEEB: It is pretty clear that they're doing this for yet another, you know, political campaign ad that they can show in their Red State.

BRADY: Landrieu is facing reelection in politically conservative Louisiana. Her bill is similar to one that passed in the House. So far, it's not clear the legislation will become law. While a majority of senators appear to support it, there aren't the 60 needed to overcome potential challenges. Supporters hope to convince more Democrats to sign on.

The bill acknowledges that Nebraska still must resolve a legal dispute to determine where the pipeline will be located in that state. Randy Thompson is one of the Nebraska landowners involved in lawsuits over the issue. He says TransCanada bullied landowners and is acting like a bad houseguest.

RANDY THOMPSON: You don't show up and say: Look, here's what I want for supper, and this is the bedroom that I'm going to sleep in. Oh, by the way, get your car out of the garage, because I want to put my car in there.

BRADY: TransCanada CEO Russ Girling has heard all this before, but even after years of arguing and delays, he remains optimistic that the pipeline will be approved. He says crews need two summers to build it.

RUSS GIRLING: There's a very low probability that we would have a decision in time to meet this year's construction period. There will be some disappointed folks that aren't going to go to work this summer.

BRADY: It could be 2017 before the pipeline is finished, assuming approval comes after this summer, and Girling says every delay adds to the $5.4 billion dollar cost. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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