Senate Sets Keystone Bill Amendments for Next Week

The Keystone XL amendment process is flowing, though controversial measures on climate change and the administration's crude-oil export ban won't be on tap just yet.

The Senate averted a threatened midnight vote on a motion to proceed to the bill approving the Alberta-to-Gulf Coast oil pipeline, with both sides agreeing to head straight into what's expected to be a free-wheeling debate that could touch on a variety of energy issues.

Senators this week will debate three amendments, with votes not scheduled until next Tuesday due to the GOP lawmakers conference later this week. Those include two Democratic additions, one from Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts that would bar the oil shipped via Keystone from being exported and another from Minnesota's Al Franken requiring that domestic steel be used to construct the pipeline.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio also has a pared-down version of his bipartisan energy-efficiency bill with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. That version has four measures—including ones related to energy efficiency for commercial buildings and exempting certain water heaters from Energy Department regulations—that passed the House last year. A full version of the bipartisan bill is expected back later this year.

But plenty more fireworks are on tap for the bill. Republicans are reiterating their commitment to making the process open and say they're not going to stop anyone from bringing up any language.

"We want people to be able to file their amendments, and to get to that bill," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "Nobody's blocking any amendments "¦ we're trying to gin up business."

And Democrats are planning to take advantage with a slew of amendments on climate change. Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, reintroduced his amendment that would put the Senate on record as saying that climate change is real and man-made (in one addition, the amendment as introduced also says that there is a "brief window of opportunity" before the country and planet suffers "irreparable harm").

It's possible that a bill from Sen. John Barrasso that would speed up exports of liquefied natural gas will come up on the bill as well, although it's also set to go through regular order with a planned hearing in the Energy Committee. A spokesman for the Wyoming Republican said that the goal was to get both Keystone and the LNG bill passed and signed, and "how we get there is being worked out."

Texas Republican Ted Cruz likewise is set to put Republicans on edge with his amendment that would lift a decades-old ban on crude-oil exports.

Whether any of those come up for a vote remains to be seen, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Energy Committee chairwoman who is heading the Republican side of the debate. Speaking about oil exports, she said that was the kind of issue that would be "appropriate" to debate on the floor, but may not be timely for a vote.

"Around here, it's real easy to file for an amendment. It's another thing to figure out how we work it into the process and whether or not it is ripe for a vote," she said.

But the lack of any real amendment debate in the past, she said, means that many in the Senate are likely still shaking off the rust.

"We've gotten to this point where there seems to be a fear of a process," she added. "Why should we be afraid of a process?"