By the narrowest of margins, the US Senate rejected legislation on Tuesday approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — a controversial infrastructure project that would transport 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to US refineries.
While 60 votes were needed to advance the bill, Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu and North Dakota Republican John Hoeven, co-sponsors of the legislation, could muster only 59 of their colleagues to vote in favor of the project. Fourteen Democrats joined all 45 Senate Republicans in supporting the proposal.
Landrieu sought to transform debate of the pipeline into a test of whether or not the Senate supported a strong middle class, while environmental groups have long said the project should be rejected because it will exacerbate climate change.
"We will continue to push for reason over gridlock, common sense over symbolism and solid science over rhetoric to approve Keystone XL and unlock its benefits," Russ Girling, Chief Executive of TransCanada, the company proposing to construct the pipeline, said in a statement.
Terry O'Sullivan, General President of the Laborers' International Union of North America, which represents workers that would help construct the pipeline, said: "The majority of Democrats in the Senate and the White House just don't get it, even though the recent election results surely should have sunk in by now. They have lost their way, their purpose and their base."
The president of environmental organization Sierra Club, Michael Brune, said: "We applaud the Senators who stood up for the health of our families and our climate by fighting back against this big polluter-funded sideshow. There's no good reason the Senate should have wasted all this time on yet another meaningless push for Keystone XL."
The Senate appears set to take up the issue again in the New Year, when Republicans, fresh off midterm election victories, gain the majority of the upper house of Congress.
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who will likely become the Senate majority leader in the new Congress, said a bill approving construction of the pipeline would be advanced "very early up" in the next session.
Sixty-three senators in the new Congress are expected to vote in favor of legislation approving Keystone XL, just shy of the 67 votes needed to override a veto, which President Obama has hinted would happen if a Keystone bill reached his desk.
"I believe we will have the votes to pass the bill in January when a number of new senators who support my legislation take office and the new Congress begins," Hoeven said in a statement following the vote.
"The new Republican-controlled Congress was swept into power on a tidal wave of Big Oil money, so there's no doubt they'll be looking to give the industry a Keystone XL sized handout as soon as possible," Jamie Henn of environmental group 350.org told VICE News. "But just like this recent vote, the back and forth in Congress will be nothing but political theater. The real decision on the pipeline continues to rest with the president."
Follow Robert S. Eshelman on Twitter: @RobertSEshelman