Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie says Democratic incumbent Mark Warner voices support for the Keystone XL pipeline but works against it.
The crude oil pipeline would extend 1,179 miles from the Alberta oil sands in Canada to Steele City, Neb., where it would connect with existing pipelines that run to Gulf Coast refineries. The privately-built line could carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day. Environmentalists say Keystone would contribute to global warming. Supporters say it would create jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Because the pipeline crosses a U.S. border, it must be approved by the U.S. State Department. The department began its review in 2008 and, three years later, determined there would be no significant environmental damage and asked other federal agencies to weigh in. But this April, the department indefinitely delayed its approval until after a challenge to the pipelines route in Nebraska is settled by that state’s courts.
In the Senate, pipeline supporters have tried several times during the past two years to pressure the Obama administration to approve the project. After an effort last month was bogged by partisan infighting, Gillespie blasted an email and news release saying of Warner, "He likes to tell us he supports Keystone Pipeline, but his record is one of acting against it."
We wondered whether Warner, who for years has said he backs Keystone, really does have a record to the contrary.
Paul Logan, spokesman for Gillespie’s campaign, said the statement was based on Keystone votes Warner cast in 2012 and this May. Let’s take a look:
The 2012 vote
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., on March 8 tried to attach to a highway funding bill an amendment saying that the State Department’s environmental sign-off on the pipeline the previous year satisfied all federal permitting and authorizations needed to start Keystone.
The measure, which required 60 votes to proceed, failed 56-42 with Warner voting against it. Warner said then that although he supported Keystone, he thought it should be used as leverage to gain support for a comprehensive energy bill that would include tax incentives for the production of alternative energy.
He said, "...I will not be voting for the Keystone amendment today because, by making this a straight up-or-down issue without taking advantage of the opportunity to put together the beginnings of an energy package, we’re missing a great opportunity."
The 2014 vote
On May 12, a Senate deadlock on a bipartisan energy conservation bill appeared to end any chance the the chamber would consider the pipeline before this November’s elections.
The legislation -- sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. and Rob Portman, R-Ohio -- would have provided tax incentives for fuel efficiency in commercial buildings, houses and appliances. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., favored the measure but was concerned that senators facing reelection this year would weigh down the bill with amendments for Keystone and other controversial energy policies.
So Reid, who opposes the pipeline, made a promise: If the Senate approved the Shaheen-Portman bill without allowing any amendments, he would permit a vote on legislation mandating that the White House move past its environmental reviews of Keystone and order it approved.
Republicans, however, offered a series of amendments to the bill that included Keystone and a provision that would prevent the White House from moving forward on new regulations for coal-fired plants. Their efforts were cut off by Reid. Warner joined most Democrats in voting to end debate and allow the unadulterated energy efficiency bill to come up for consideration. But that motion was opposed by Republicans and fell five votes short of the 60 the bill needed to proceed.
GOP leaders said the best hope for advancing Keystone was to stitch it into a bill with other energy measures. Democrats dismissed that reasoning, saying President Barack Obama was bound to veto legislation that would have prevented new regulations on carbon emissions -- as Republicans wanted.
Gillespie adopts the GOP line and says that Warner, in voting to cut off debate without amendments, voted against the pipeline. "Reid's purpose in decoupling a Keystone vote from the energy efficiency bill was intended precisely to ensure that it failed," said Logan, the campaign’s spokesman.
Logan’s comments point to an additional chapter in this story that Gillespie does not publicize: The decoupled Keystone bill that would have come up for vote had the Senate approved energy efficiency bill according to Reid’s demands. Warner was among 55 cosponsors of the bipartisan bill to advance the pipeline.
Other Keystone activities
Warner’s campaign sent us list of actions and votes the senator has made in favor of the pipeline:
- This April, Warner was among 11 Democrats who signed a letter asking Obama to approve Keystone by May 31.
- Warner was among 53 senators from both parties who signed a letter to Obama in January 2013 urging approval of the pipeline after Nebraska chose a route through the state. A month later, he was 18 senators who sent a similar letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
- In March 2013, Warner voted for an amendment to a Senate budget resolution that supported Keystone construction. The amendment required no binding action to spur Keystone, but was was considered an indication of the Senate’s support for the pipeline. Virginia’s other senator, Democrat Tim Kaine, opposed the amendment.
Warner has taken heat from environmentalists for his Keystone actions. Blue Virginia, a pro-Democratic blog, in January 2013 listed Warner among 53 "sell-outs to big oil" in the Senate. Protesters have picketed him and his office in Harrisonburg and Richmond. The League of Conservation Voters gave Mark Warner an 85 percent rating on its scorecard in 2013, a downgrade, partly due to his support of the non-binding Keystone resolution.
Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, told us he considers Warner a solid pipeline supporter. "He’s not only said he supports the Keystone Pipeline, he’s voted for it, much to our chagrin," Besa said.
Gillespie says Warner’s "record is one of acting against" the Keystone XL pipeline.
In 2012, Warner did oppose a procedural step that would have allowed a Senate vote on expediting the project. He explained that he even though supported the pipeline, he thought it should be part of a broad energy policy. Even so, its reasonable to count this vote as an action against Keystone.
But after that, Gillespie’s claim runs into problems. Each party blames the other for the Senate’s failure to pass pro-Keystone legislation this May. Gillespie’s campaign notes that Warner helped block a GOP effort to amend an energy efficiency bill with a go-ahead for Keystone and a provision that would prevented new carbon emission regulations. On the other hand, Warner co-sponsored a clean bill that would have expedited the pipeline.
A review of the record shows Warner voted in favor of a Keystone resolution in 2013. He signed two letters to the president and one to the secretary of state asking them to expedite the project. Many environmentalists put Warner squarely in the Keystone crowd.
So we rate Gillespie’s statement Mostly False.