Keystone XL backers in the U.S. Senate failed Wednesday to override President Barack Obama's veto of congressional efforts to approve the controversial Canadian oil sands pipeline.
The 62-37 vote fell five short of the 67 votes needed – the two-thirds majority in the 100-seat Senate – required to override a presidential veto. One senator didn't vote. A two-thirds majority would also be required in the House of Representatives, where the chances are even less likely.
Keystone XL opponents – who claim the pipeline from Alberta across the United States to the Gulf coast would spur development of Canada's vast, carbon-heavy oil sands – cheered the Senate's failure.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," the Sierra Club's executive director Michael Brune said. "Senate Republicans have shown just how out of touch they are with the priorities of American families with their repeated attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline."
Bold Nebraska's Jane Kleeb, who leads the grassroots opposition group including ranchers and native peoples that has tied Keystone XL up in the courts for years, said the pipeline's backers should "know when to fold 'em and walk away. Gambling with our water and property rights by trying over and over again to shove Keystone down our throats shows how the Republicans value Big Oil interests over anything else."
And Danielle Droitsch, director of the National Resources Defense Council's Canada Project said: "This dirty tar sands oil pipeline is simply not in America's national interest; and this new Congress should stop wasting its time." But Republicans – and their Democratic allies backing Keystone XL – vowed other efforts to force Mr. Obama to approve the $8-billion (U.S.) project to funnel Alberta's heavy oil sands crude across the United States to refineries in Texas and Louisiana.
"If we don't win the battle today, well, we'll win the war because we'll attach it to another bill," said Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican and leading advocate of TransCanada Corp.'s long-delayed pipeline. It's intended to funnel 830,000 barrels a day of Alberta oil sands crude across the U.S. plains to refineries along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana.
But Mr. Obama – and the final decision rests with him despite congressional efforts to seize control of the approval process – has made it increasingly clear that he sees little, if any, value in Keystone XL for Americans.
"Keystone is for Canadian oil to send that down to the Gulf," Mr. Obama said in an interview with a TV station in Fargo, N.D. – the heart of the U.S. shale oil boom – last weekend.
"It bypasses the United States and is estimated to create a little over 250, maybe 300 permanent jobs," he added, echoing a position he first publicly raised last December, when he also said it wouldn't lower U.S. gas prices. "We should be focusing more broadly on American infrastructure for American jobs and American producers."
Outraged Keystone XL supporters accused the President of telling untruths. "That is a really, really, really big whopper to say that there wouldn't be any benefit to the United States," said Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican.
Mr. Obama, although dubbed a lame duck, still has nearly two years remaining as President. He has repeatedly delayed making a Keystone XL decision and still seems in no rush. "I think it will happen before the end of my administration," he said this week. When pressed on timing, he suggested he might decide within "weeks or months."
Republicans, already stinging from their failure to force Mr. Obama to reverse sweeping executive orders allowing millions of immigrants to remain in the United States by threatening to withhold funding for the Department of Homeland Security, are looking at ways to force a showdown on Keystone XL while avoiding another embarrassing failure.
The original Keystone XL approval bill passed the Senate with 63 votes – all 54 Republicans and nine Democrats.
In the run-up to Wednesday's vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the decision should be a "no-brainer," the same tag used by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has lobbied hard for TransCanada's pipeline.
Mr. McConnell said Mr. Obama was "signalling to extreme special interests that his party is turning away from workers and towards them."
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, among the most outspoken Democrats backing Keystone XL, said Canadian oil was preferable to crude from Venezuela or the Middle East. "I'd rather buy [oil] from my friends than my enemies," he said, adding that Keystone XL means "buying from our best friend, neighbour and ally."
Mr. Hoeven has suggested adding Keystone XL approval to a forthcoming highway funding approval.
Democrats argue the pipeline will spur the development of Alberta's vast oil sands resulting, they say, in greater greenhouse gas emissions from carbon-laden fossil fuels and exacerbate global warming.
"This is a ludicrous idea," Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and leading opponent on Keystone XL. "First, they hold the Homeland Security funding bill hostage to immigration. Now they want to hold the highway bill hostage to big polluting Canadian special interests."