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Keystone XL pipeline protest in Olympia, Washington in February 2013 (Source: WikiMedia Commons)

Keystone XL pipeline protest in Olympia, Washington in February 2013 (Source: WikiMedia Commons)

The Keystone XL pipeline cleared its first procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Monday. President Obama has vowed to veto any bill that would authorize the Calgary, Alberta-based oil company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL, a steel pipeline that would carry as many as 830,000 barrels a day of crude oil from tar sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas.

The GOP-controlled Senate voted 63-32 Monday evening to begin debating the bill, stating that the debate process will likely continue into next week. A similar version of the legislation passed the House of Representatives in November (the ninth passage of such legislation), also GOP-dominated.

One factor stalling passage of the legislation is a series of amendments Democrats want to attach to the KXL bill, including a rider from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would force Republicans to acknowledge that climate change “is real” and “is caused by human activities.”

The GOP has attempted this same tactic in the past by attaching Keystone riders to other legislation that Obama would find it difficult to veto, hoping to strong-arm him into accepting the Keystone XL pipeline. According to Politico, Democrats are now trying to turn the tables and embarrass Republicans up for re-election in 2016. Republicans will have to defend 24 Senate seats, some of them in swing states.

The pipeline has been long delayed, as TransCanada filed its first application for a Presidential Permit in 2008. Some outlets have boiled down the controversial project to a debate between environmental preservation versus immediate job creation, but the evidence for job creation is slim.

Critics of the pipeline have accused the project of being beneficially to only a handful of vested interests, while potentially causing enormous environmental damage across a vast territory. The argument that this will create jobs is also misleading, as TransCanada’s original 2008 permit would create “a peak workforce of approximately 3,500 to 4,200” in temporary construction jobs to build the pipeline.

“The Republicans’ highest priority, their number one bill now that they have majority status in the Senate is approval of a pipeline project that benefits one company, a Canadian company to create 35 permanent jobs,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). “This special interest small-ball effort is not a national economic or energy policy or plan to make America energy independent.”

The 1,179-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline is backed by 57 percent of the 1,011 Americans surveyed on December 18-21, according to a poll conducted by CNN/ORC. Just 28 percent oppose it, while 15 percent say they are unsure.

The debate over the pipeline is unsurprisingly split along party lines, with 80 percent of Republicans backing it compared to just 39 percent of Democrats, and different age groups, with support strongest at 67 percent among those 65 and older and weakest at 47 percent among those between 18 and 34.

The environmental impact is clear: tar sands crude oil is 19 percent more greenhouse gas intensive than conventional fuel according to the State Department. Furthermore, it is solidifying a dependency on fossil fuels for the next several decades at least, rather than building and investing in renewable energy.

Democratic leaders opposed to the pipeline have predicted that they will be able to sustain Obama’s veto of the legislation, needing four more votes in favor of the veto.

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