The US Senate has failed to pass a bill approving the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The Senate voted by 59-41 in favor of the bill, but this was one vote short of the 60 needed to pass it.
The 1,179-mile pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska where it joins pipes running to Texas.
Republicans have vowed to approve the bill next year when the new Congress convenes.
The current Senate is controlled by the Democratic Party, but Republicans will control the next Senate, following gains in elections earlier this month.
President Barack Obama is said to take a “dim view” of the legislation, but has not directly threatened a veto in the event of the bill reaching the White House.
The pipeline project has pitted Republicans and other supporters – who say it will create much-needed jobs – against many Democrats and environmentalists who warn the pipeline will add to carbon emissions and contribute to global warming.
Republicans maintained their majority in the House and gained control of the US Senate during mid-term elections on November 4. But the official start of the new Congress is not until early January.
The bill failed to pass despite all 45 current Republican senators as well as 14 Democrats voting in favor.
The proposed XL pipeline has the same origin and destination as an operational pipe, also called Keystone but takes a more direct route and has a wider diameter.
It would daily carry 830,000 barrels of mostly Canadian-produced oil from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Steele City, Nebraska and then on to the Texas coast for export.
The southern section to the Gulf opened in January 2014.
It is a privately financed project, with the cost of construction shared between TransCanada, an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta, and other oil shippers.
A state department report raised no major environmental objections in February, but the final recommendation was delayed amid a court battle over the project in Nebraska.
The state department is involved because the pipeline would cross an international border.
The Keystone XL pipeline aims to carry some 830,000 barrels of heavy crude a day from the fields in Alberta to Nebraska.
The oil would then be transported on existing pipes to refineries in Texas. The southern section of the project was finished last year.
The bill passed easily in the House last week with a 252-161 vote, but it was not the first time the chamber had voted to approve the project.
The bill’s sponsor, Louisiana Representative Bill Cassidy, is facing a run-off election against incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu for her seat.
Mary Landrieu – among the pipeline’s Democratic supporters – successfully pushed the Senate to hold the vote on the measure on November 18 and urged backing for the measure.
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On November 14, the House of Representatives passed legislation authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline by a decisive vote of 252 to 161.
However, President Barack Obama is signaling he is increasingly skeptical of the project.
While the White House has not issued a formal veto threat, it has indicated it is prepared to reject the House bill; press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on November 13 it has recommended vetoes against similar bills in the past. And barring an extraordinary legislative maneuver forcing his hand next Congress, according to individuals familiar with the administration’s thinking, Barack Obama is likely to reject a final permit when the matter comes before him.
Republicans have identified Keystone as one of their top legislative priorities, and it enjoys the support of several major business groups along with the oil industry.
TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling issued a statement on November 5 saying that the Keystone XL pipeline “has always enjoyed bipartisan support and is a great example of an issue where both parties can work together to create jobs and enhance energy security for the United States. After six years, it is time to break the gridlock on Keystone and move forward”.
Russ Girling said that pipelines “remain the safest and most efficient way to move large volumes of Canadian and American oil to US refineries. Keystone XL will help push oil out of US refineries from countries and parts of the world that are often openly hostile to America’s interests or values – and that benefits all of us”.
Senator Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska), one of the pipeline’s fiercest congressional backers, said he was “very, very skeptical” Barack Obama would grant a permit to the project’s sponsor TransCanada if the question was “left to a presidential decision”.
Some unions, including LIUNA and the International Union of Operating Engineers, have endorsed the project as a means of generating high-paying, short-term construction jobs.
However, environmentalists have framed the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would ship bitumen that is extracted though an energy-intensive process in Canada’s oil sands, as a referendum on the president’s commitment to addressing climate change.
In June 2013, Barack Obama said that he would reject the project if it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” a pledge he repeated again last week in a press conference he held after the midterm elections.
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