Energy Policy

E&E Daily's Schor talks Keystone politics as Senate considers vote

The politics of the Keystone XL pipeline are back in full focus this week as Senate leadership considers a vote on a measure that would bypass the Obama administration on a final decision. What are the legislation's prospects and how does this vote play into midterm politics? During today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily reporter Elana Schor updates the vote count and the politics and previews the Senate's action, which could occur as early as next week.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the Cutting Edge. The politics of Keystone XL back in full focus with a vote on the pipeline's future possible in the Senate as early as next week. E&E Daily's Elana Schor joins me. Elana, Energy Chairwoman Landrieu and Senator Hoeven are behind this latest effort to bypass the Obama administration on a pipeline decision. They need 60 votes; how are the numbers looking?

Elana Schor: Well, right now, Monica, they are short of 60 votes, so what you're seeing is a lot of maneuvering to potentially delay this vote by creating some uncertainty about whether it will be attached to an energy efficiency bill sponsored by Jeanne Shaheen and Rob Portman, or whether it will be a stand-alone, separate vote. And whether or not that occurs, right now the votes are not on pipeline fans' side. They need four because they have 56 members on the Landrieu-Hoeven measure, and right now those four mean they would have to run the table among four uncertain senators: Tom Carper, Bob Casey, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall. I mean, batting a thousand is tough to do. Now they may still convert some folks who have already said they won't vote yes on this binding measure, but that's a tough, tough lift.

Monica Trauzzi: Landrieu is currently in the midst of a very challenging re-election campaign. How much is her re-election campaign playing into this latest push?

Elana Schor: Very, very heavily, especially for Republicans, because this vote is a double-edged sword. Landrieu has promised to do everything she can to get this pipeline approved. If she gets her leadership to hold this vote and they can't get 60 votes, I mean, Mary Landrieu is able to go back to the campaign trail and say, "I did everything I could." So leaving this vote uncertain, especially if the outcome is uncertain, allows Republicans to keep hammering Landrieu for not getting it done.

Monica Trauzzi: With little hope of any kind of broader energy policy package making its way through the chamber anytime soon, is this an effective approach to getting energy issues on the floor?

Elana Schor: Well, I mean, no, but it's the only approach they have at this point. I mean, the Senate is so mired in gridlock even before the election season -- you know, we know that this is the new normal, that to a certain extent getting energy issues on the floor happens behind closed doors. Right now you see members of both parties -- they did it yesterday; they're probably going to do it again today by phone -- try to hash out four or five key issues, key votes to kind of take the temperature of the Senate. But practically the Republican-controlled House is not about to embrace any kind of bipartisan compromise that comes out of the other side of the building, so we're really still stuck.

Monica Trauzzi: Where does the environmental community stand right now on Keystone? There's sort of this period of limbo with possible congressional action. The president's also already indicated that there's a delay on his end. So where is the environmental community in all of this?

Elana Schor: Well, the environmental community I think is very concerned now about not counting its chickens before they hatch. Obviously it's good news that you're seeing senators like Tim Johnson, who is not a liberal, come out and say they will not vote with Republicans on this pipeline bill. But at the same time anything can happen. These Republicans and the oil industry are pushing. And if this pipeline gets 60 in the Senate, yes, that's not enough to defeat a veto that the president probably would levy, but then the House passes its Keystone bill. And we see a lot of messaging, a lot of pressure on the White House. Environmentalists have never been sure that this president is 100 percent with them.

Monica Trauzzi: So you think Keystone will stay in the headlines even if this congressional effort fails.

Elana Schor: Absolutely, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Shaheen-Portman, which this may be attached to, we're not even sure that that bill will reach the floor. What stands in the way?

Elana Schor: Well, right now it's not just Keystone; it's the other package of those four or five big-ticket energy amendments that I referenced. Quite a few of them have to do with CCS, carbon capture and sequestration technology, which forms kind of the policy bulwark of the EPA power plant rules. Republicans want to try to picket that. They might want to try to take up coal ash regulations. So there's a whole suite of moving pieces right now. What we do know is that Reid, the majority leader, has set up a test vote on this next week. So the clock is basically ticking for Republicans to get themselves together on Keystone and their energy shortlist together for these votes.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Elana, we'll end it there -- a lot to watch. Thanks for coming on the show.

Elana Schor: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next week. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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