US Senate approves Keystone XL pipeline bill

Senators voted 62-36 in favour of controversial pipeline, sending it to president Barack Obama’s desk for a likely veto

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell led the Keystone XL debate (Pic: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell led the Keystone XL debate (Pic: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

By Megan Darby

After weeks of wrangling, US senators have passed the controversial Keystone XL bill by 62 votes to 36.

The bill seeks to give Congress the power to approve a 1,400 km pipeline to deliver oil from Canada’s tar sands to the US state of Nebraska. Currently, that right lies with President Obama.

Yet the White House has indicated that Obama will veto the bill, on the grounds it circumvents the process to determine whether it is in the best interests of the country. Congress would need a two-thirds majority in both houses to override a presidential veto.

Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, described the result as “an important accomplishment for the country”.

He expressed hope Obama would change his mind and pass the bill, which McConnell said would “pump billions” into the economy.

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Bernie Sanders, an independent senator for Vermont, opposed the bill.

“With the scientific community telling us loudly and clearly that we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels if we are to combat climate change, it is totally crazy for the Congress to support the production and transportation of some of the dirtiest oil on the planet,” he said.

The debate has polarised opinion, with advocates talking up the jobs and economic benefits and environmentalists raising concern about the climate impact.

Both elements have been fiercely disputed. An early report by the State Department claimed Keystone XL would create 42,000 jobs and have a negligible impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute argued the emissions impact could be four times the State Department estimate, due to its impact on oil markets.

Tar sands are one of the most carbon intensive sources of oil in the world. The SEI researchers found that by transporting 830,000 barrels of oil a day, the pipeline could depress oil prices and boost demand, increasing emissions.

Obama has said he will only approve the pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

May Boeve, executive director at, which has campaigned against the pipeline, said: “Given the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on our political system, it’s no longer even surprising that this Congress has made it their number one priority to try and force approval of an oil pipeline, instead of addressing the wide range of real issues confronting American families.”

She urged Obama to veto the bill and reject the pipeline once and for all.

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