WASHINGTON, DC – For a good five minutes on the U.S. Senate floor, Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota lobbied Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado to vote to put the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline on the fast track to approval. It was a week before the Senate’s March 8 vote on the controversial pipeline, and Hoeven thought Udall might be convinced to vote for his amendment.
“He didn’t commit one way or another. He seemed interested in the arguments,” Hoeven recalled in an interview Tuesday.
Udall confirmed he spoke with Hoeven about the measure. “I didn’t argue with Sen. Hoeven. I was interested and I listened,” Udall said in an interview.
Udall ended up opposing the amendment, which fell four votes shy of getting the 60 necessary to overcome a filibuster attempt in the upper chamber. Hoeven suggested the Obama administration might have convinced Udall on the eve of the vote to block the measure, noting that the president called many wavering Democratic senators and succeeded in getting them to vote with the administration.
Udall said his vote was based on the merits of the issue. “It was my conclusion that that all these amendments were political. They were not helping anyone – the pipeline, the American consumer, the environment. Let’s let all these studies come out,” he said, referring to reports about the effect that the 1,661-mile pipeline would have on the environment and economy.
While part of Udall’s answer echoed White House spokesman Jay Carney’s accusation that Senate Republicans were playing politics, Udall has an extensive voting and personal history in support of environmental causes. His rating from the League of Conservation Voters regularly is 100 percent, and his wife, Maggie L. Fox, is the President and CEO of the Climate Reality Project.
The proposed pipeline would run from Alberta, Canada to the Southern states near the Gulf of Mexico and carry oil or tar sands reserves. Opponents say the Keystone XL pipeline would run the risk of oil spills, which would harm migratory birds and wildlife, and create few good long-term jobs in the construction industry.
But opponents’ have been faced with complaints from a public grappling with rising fuel costs, a historically high jobless rate, as well as instability in oil producing regions like the Middle East and Africa. The administration has supported delaying a decision on the pipeline until 2013 – after the election.
Support for the bill had crested to the point that the White House chose not lobby all eleven of the Democratic senators backing the pipeline, knowing some of them could not be flipped.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.), a supporter of the pipeline, was among the Democrats who did not speak with anyone at the White House about his vote. “I try to be as independent as possible. We should not be dependent on foreign oil,” Manchin said. “We need everything possible – coal, nukes, wind, solar.”
Like Udall, Colorado’s junior Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, did not go out of the way to advertise his opposition to the pipeline. His office did not issue a press statement on his vote, and he declined to discuss his vote Tuesday on two different occasions.
In the past five years, Bennet has received campaign contributions from oil and gas as well as environmental interests. Environmentalists gave $164,000 to his campaign committee, while oil and gas interests contributed $137,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Hoeven said he lobbied Udall but not Bennet. While he declined to elaborate on the reason, he expressed confidence about his amendment’s prospects in the upper chamber. “We’re picking up votes. We were going to pass it until the President weighed in, and I’m hopeful,” he said.