Like the long-delayed project itself, a U.S. Senate vote on approving Keystone XL, the controversial pipeline that would funnel Canada's thick, carbon-laden oil sands crude to Texas refineries, failed to advance Monday.
Amid acrimony and bitterness, the Senate failed to proceed on an energy-efficiency bill – for which there was widespread bipartisan support – because Republicans sought to load it up with amendments, including the Keystone XL vote. After failing to get the 60 votes needed to force the bill on to the floor, the legislation died.
With it, a desperate attempt by Democrats to get another yes or no vote on Keystone XL – which some of them hoped would help their bleak chances of winning re-election this November – also failed.
"My question to my Republican friends is: Do you want to build the Keystone pipeline or do you want an issue to talk about" with the November mid-term elections looming, said Senator Mary Landrieu, one of a half-dozen embattled Democratic backers of the Keystone XL project who lost another chance to distance themselves from President Barack Obama on the issue. "I think they want an issue to talk about," said Ms. Landrieu, answering her own question.
"It's a shame that all the hard work that went into this ended" without a vote, said Sen. Landrieu after the vote. "It's very, very, disappointing."
Next to her was an easel bearing a sign saying, "It's time to build the Keystone XL pipeline."
Mr. Obama, ignoring the increasingly shrill pleas of Canada's Conservative government, which has morphed into a lobbying machine for TransCanada Corp.'s $5.4-billion scheme to send 800,000 barrels a day of Alberta's oil sands crude to U.S. refineries near Gulf Coast ports, has already delayed a decision on the pipeline until after November's elections. The latest delay seemed politically driven: to avoid alienating young, activist, environmentally conscious voters in the Democratic base who mostly oppose the project. Many in Washington now regard Keystone XL as doomed after environmentalists succeeded in turning it into a litmus test of the President's chances to emblazon his legacy with green credentials.
Last week, the President unveiled a new set of proposals designed to wean the United States off fossil fuels because of the grave consequences of global warming driven by carbon emissions.
"This is not some distant problem of the future," said Mr. Obama, following a grim assessment from a national science panel that found climate change was already affecting every part of the United States. The President said it demonstrated "the need for urgent action to combat the threats from climate change, protect American citizens and communities today and build a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids."
Monday's vote fell five votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill and open the route to a Keystone XL vote.
However, even if Keystone XL had won another vote in the Senate, it faced an almost certain veto from the President, who has the executive authority to issue a permit for a pipeline that crosses an international boundary.