WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Thursday defeated an attempt by Republican lawmakers to grant congressional approval for the construction of a new oil pipeline, after the White House confirmed that President Barack Obama personally called senators to persuade them to reject it.
The Senate voted 56 to 42 in favor of granting congressional approval of the so-called Keystone XL pipeline project, four votes short of the 60 required for the measure's passage. Republican lawmakers were joined by 11 Democrats in voting for granting the approval.
Republicans were trying to override the objections of the Obama administration to the construction of the pipeline.
Obama had a role in corralling Democrats to reject the Republican proposal for Keystone, as the White House said he called lawmakers to convince them it was "irresponsible." The Republican proposal would have cleared the way for construction of the pipeline to begin immediately.
The Republican plan is "irresponsible because it ... tries to legislate the approval of a pipeline for which there is not even a route," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.
Carney wouldn't say which lawmakers the president called.
The president rejected TransCanada Corp.'s application for the pipeline construction in January, but said the company could reapply once it changed its proposed route to address environmental concerns.
The pipeline would run from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, through the U.S. to refineries in the Gulf Coast.
Last month, the administration granted approval to the construction of the southern portion of the pipeline. TransCanada said it is likely to submit a new application for the rest of the route.
The Republican measure would have circumvented this process and allow construction to begin immediately.
Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) led the charge for Republicans on the matter.
"My amendment provides that the Keystone pipeline project will move forward, authorized by Congress," he said on the Senate floor before the vote, the latest attempt by congressional Republicans to force the administration's hand on the issue.
It was one of a number of amendment votes on a wider transportation bill. Like the Keystone vote, many of the votes on Thursday afternoon were unrelated to the underlying bill.
The legislation would extend for two years the federal funding formula for road, bridge and other transportation public works construction and repairs projects.
Some version of the legislation must be passed before the end of March when a temporary funding measure expires.
The Senate also defeated an alternative pipeline measure offered up by Senate Democrats. It would have dictated that none of the oil or natural gas that travels along the pipeline could be exported from the U.S., and that 100% of the building materials used in its construction are sourced from U.S. companies. That amendment was essentially a poison pill designed to ensure the defeat of the Republican amendment.
Lawmakers also defeated an attempt by Republicans to delay Environmental Protection Agency rules that will require large industrial firms to install greater pollution controls on their boilers and incinerators to reduce mercury, soot and other toxic emissions.
The issue has become hotly contested as GOP lawmakers have routinely held up it as an example of regulatory overreach by the Obama administration.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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