Murkowski: Keystone XL Pipeline Worth Fighting For

The new Congressional session is barely underway, but Senate Democrats managed to derail Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s plan for Wednesday morning. She’d hoped to hold a hearing on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the Senate Energy Committee.

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The Keystone Pipeline is the signature environmental fight of the moment. It’s the rallying cry, the poster child, the new polar bear. It occupies the political space once held by the fight over drilling in ANWR. The new Republican leadership of the Senate made it their No. 1 priority.

Sen. Murkowski is eager to move the bill through the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She’s the committee’s incoming chairman. But Democrats threw up a procedural hurdle on the Senate’s opening day, objecting to the hearing she’d planned. Murkowski says she’s undeterred.

“My goal and I know the goal of the Republicans is to advance this through the process as quickly as possible,” Murkowski said.

President Obama has already issued a veto warning. Here’s his spokesman, Josh Earnest.

“I would not anticipate that the president will sign this piece of legislation,” Earnest said. “We promised – We indicated that the president would veto similar legislation that was considered by the previous Congress, and our position hasn’t changed.

The White House followed up with an official statement, saying the Keystone bill would “cut short” an important permitting process. It galls Murkowski.

“Cut short were the words that the president used,” Murkowski said. “This has been under consideration for six years. Give me a break!”

She and other Republicans say the pipeline will create jobs and has broad support among the public. The pipeline is intended to move oil from Alberta through Nebraska and ultimately to refineries in Texas. Opponents say it will contribute to global warming, especially because it will carry petroleum extracted from the oil sands of Alberta, which environmentalists say is particularly harmful.

Murkowski said last month she intends to use her committee chairmanship to “get things done” by passing bills the president will sign, not to just send a message. Now, even with a veto threat looming, she says Keystone is worth fighting for. Murkowski says Senate Republicans can’t let President Obama set the agenda.

“I don’t think we’re going to sit back and just wait to see what the president wants to support before we decide we’re going to move forward with it,” Murkowski said.

She’s proceeding with another committee meeting on the bill this week. She says she’ll work to get a veto-proof majority on the bill, but she acknowledges that may not be possible. Nose-counters around the Senate say it’s about 4 votes short of that 67-vote threshold.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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