WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) split with most other Democrats to vote in favor of a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday, even though President Obama had signaled his intention to veto the measure.
Casey "believes that the project could create jobs and bolster energy security," said a spokesman for the senator, John Rizzo. "He believes we must continue to grow the domestic energy supply to fuel the economy and increase our energy independence."
Casey was one of 14 Democrats to vote in favor of the bill, along with 45 Republicans. But the 59 "yeas" fell one short of the 60 needed to clear Senate procedural hurdles.
New Jersey's two Democratic Senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, both opposed the plan, saying the environmental risks were too great for the job benefits, the vast majority of which are expected to last only two years.
"The rewards of moving forward with Keystone XL simply do not outweigh the risks," Menendez said in a news release. He added, "This is just another empty handout to big oil with no significant benefit to the American people."
Booker, in a statement, said, "I'm a staunch advocate for investing in infrastructure that creates good paying American jobs – from roads and bridges to air and sea ports – but not at the cost of the long-term health of our environment." He expressed "serious concerns" about the environmental impact "and the lack of long-term job creation."
Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey voted "yes" on the bill – keeping with his longstanding views and his party's position. Toomey has called Keystone XL part of a "pro-growth" agenda and the GOP in general has made support for the proposed oil pipeline linking Canada to middle America a central piece of its economic argument.
The pipeline has become a political flashpoint for groups who say it will spur economic growth and environmentalists who argue that it is too risky and potentially damaging. Studies have downplayed the impact in either area – a State department review estimated that around 20,000 jobs would be created or supported in related industries for two years, with only around 50 being added long term; the review also downplayed the effect on greenhouse gas emissions – but the project has become a symbol and rallying point for activists of all stripes. The Obama administration has been reviewing the proposal for years, and the president has said he is waiting for the process to conclude.
The competing arguments have divided Democrats. Most in the House (last week) and Senate (Tuesday) voted against the politically-charged bills to approve the pipeline, citing the environmental risks.
But like Casey, two local Democratic Congressmen with strong ties to labor – Bob Brady, of Philadelphia, and Donald Norcross, of Camden County – were among the 31 Democrats in the House to cross party lines and support the House version of the bill to approve the pipeline.
"I campaigned on jobs and the economy and certainly this is a job creator," Norcross said in an interview Tuesday. "Particularly in the United States where we're still lagging behind in those blue collar jobs, we needed it."
Construction-related unions have called for approval of the project.
A bill to approve the pipeline will likely come back early next year, when Republicans take control of the Senate. At that time, they should have the votes to pass the measure.