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Keystone Pipeline vote isn't about energy

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

A Senate vote on the completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline is scheduled for late Tuesday, less than a week after the House voted to approve the legislation.

The basics

If approved, 1,200 miles of pipeline will be built to connect oil reserves in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. If completed, up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil would move daily from the Canadian oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Once the crude reached its final destination it would be processed into gasoline and fuel. 40% of the pipeline is already completed and in use. There are currently 2.6 million miles of pipeline in use in the United States.

The pipeline has been held up by six years of intensive debate between politicians, energy advocates and environmentalists, all have whom have strong opinions about the project.

Environmentalists fear that extracting crude from the oil sands in Alberta causes an increase in greenhouse gas and will contribute to global warming. The U.S. State Department, however, has reported that there will be no significant environmental impact from the pipeline. Advocates for the project argue it will create jobs.

No matter how long the jobs last, Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Aaron Task says, “this is skilled labor and these are high-paying jobs—there is no denying that.” How many jobs and how long they last, says Task, “is a secondary issue when you realize that there is still a lot of unemployment in this country and a lot of people who would welcome those jobs.”

Some politicians argue that the pipeline is good for the U.S. as it will decrease the price of gas and create jobs. The State Department’s report, however, shows that there will be little impact on price in the U.S. and that while construction would create 42,000 jobs once the pipeline is complete there will only be 50 permanent new jobs.

Oil companies in Alberta and crude refineries within the United States prefer pipelines as the method of transport for crude oil because they’re faster and less costly than transport by boat or rail.

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Task believes that the pipeline’s impact on energy markets is much smaller than it would have been six years ago because of the increase in energy production within the United States.

“This goes back to the 2008 election,” he says, “when the republicans were yelling ‘drill baby drill’ and the democrats were saying we have to be environmentally conscious. A lot of this has been negated by what’s going on with fracking elsewhere.”

Senate fight

The Senate currently appears to be stuck at 59 votes in favor of approving the Keystone XL Pipeline; they need just one more in order to prevent a filibuster by opponents. Senator Mary Landrieu is scrambling to find that last vote as the Louisiana democrat’s run-off election this December may hinge on her fulfilling her promise to get the bill passed.

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All 45 republicans in the senate and 14 democrats have agreed to vote yes on the pipeline. “Let’s stop for a minute and think about the insanity that you now need 60 votes in the Senate to get anything done,” says Task. “Forget about a simple majority, you now need a filibuster-proof 60 which is not how the Senate was designed to actually work.” The only reason Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) has brought this up for a vote after six years, says Task, is so that Senator Landrieu is able to keep her seat.

“It’s all become about politics,” he says. “It’s not about energy policy; it’s not about our jobs; it is just about naked politics. It’s unfortunate that this is the reality of where we are today in America.”

Presidential Veto

If the bill does reach President Barack Obama’s desk tonight (the Senate could vote as early as 6:15pm ET), he could veto the pipeline. In a press conference last week in Asia, Obama remarked that the pipeline wouldn’t add anything to the U.S. energy economy and would allow Canada to, “pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else."

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If the bill doesn’t pass or is vetoed, republicans plan to reintroduce legislation in January or February of 2015 when they will have majority control of both houses.

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