Image: CSPAN

The Senate voted to kill the Keystone XLat least, it killed a bill designed to fast-track its approval. 

The Keystone XL has been winding its way through American politics for six years nowthe 1,700 mile pipeline would pump tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries around the Gulf Coast of the US. The oil industry wants it passed, to speed the flow of tar sands crude to American refineries. Environmentalists, and scientists like ex-NASA climatologist James Hansen, oppose the pipeline for both the climate threat and environmental dangers it poses.

Hansen has said that if it gets passed it's "game over for the climate," because tar sands oil produces more emissions than regular crude. The Keystone is, by far, the most contentious energy project in American politics.

The pipeline has been delayed by the Obama administration, largely as a result of pressure from public opposition, so that proper environmental review could be carried out by the State Department (a requirement, because it crosses an international border). Republicans and some conservative-leaning Democrats recently voted to pass a bill in the House of Representatives that would speed the pipeline's approval. 

Today, a bill was voted down in the Senate that, if passed, would have approved the pipeline. The only thing that could have stopped the pipeline then would be Obama's veto pen. And it was closeit mustered just 41 nay votes.

The debate in the Senate today reflected the longstanding, and highly partisan concerns and support for the billthose in favor (Republicans) tout job creation numbers, a need to expand our energy infrastructure, and the importance of getting our oil from a friendly neighbor like Canada. Opponents worry about the massive resultant carbon emissions, and the immanent danger of oil spills.

"This would be a poor way to meet the President's pledge in Beijing to dramatically reduce our emissions," Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, referring to Obama's newly inked deal to lower carbon emissions with China.

But the reason we're even having a vote today is largely Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who is facing a tough runoff election to keep her Senate seat in Louisiana. She, along with so many other Democrats, had her job threatened when Republicans swept into office in November.

To prove her oily bona fides (the state is a major refiner and producer) to conservative Louisiana voters, Landrieu helped fast-track a bill to approve the Keystone XL.

To the opponents of this pipeline: This resource WILL BE PRODUCED," Landrieu said in a bit of theatrical grandstanding, referring to the tar sands oil. "Nothing that we do will stop this resource from being produced." 

"The pipeline will be up very early in the next session," the incoming majority leader Mitch McConnell said, after the vote had wrapped. Next year, with many more Republican senators filling the chamber, a bill pushing the Keystone is much more likely to pass. Barack Obama, whom many believe considers climate policy a large part of his legacy, has already hinted that he'll veto any such bill if it does.