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Keystone XL: a new Senate vote, unions go green, public opinion cools: Erica Alini

The news you probably missed

The big news about Keystone XL this week is that Prime Minister Harper and President Obama might start talking about a common framework for energy and carbon emission policy.

Below the top echelons of power, however, there were a few other interesting developments:

Congress, for one, is gearing up for another showdown on Keystone. With the Syria vote on hold, the Senate has begun debating a pending energy efficiency bill and North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven wants to amend it to require the upper chamber to take a position on Keystone XL. This is the same John Hoeven who pushed a non-binding pro-Keystone resolution in March that passed with 62 votes, a filibuster-proof majority. That vote was essentially a dress rehearsal for the upcoming one.

Whether the current effort will master a similar level of support likely depends on the language of the amendment. The March resolution attracted several Democratic votes because it steered clear of challenging the president’s authority to approve Keystone, writes Elana Schor at E&E Publishing. A bolder amendment would likely fall short of a filibuster-proof margin and embolden anti-Keystone groups.

The text of the amendment wasn’t publicly available on Friday morning, but news reports indicated it is being co-sponsored by three Democrats running for election next year in conservative states, as well as Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator from North Dakota.

The legislation has no hopes of forcing Obama to approve Keystone, as the president can simply refuse to sign the bill into law. Rather, it serves as a test of support for the pipeline in the Democrat-dominated Senate. It will be interesting to see whether anything has changed since March.

Unions are eager to make friends with environmental activists, despite holding opposite views on Keystone. The AFL-CIO, the U.S.’s largest labour federation, made overtures to green groups such as Sierra Club, an arch-enemy of Keystone, this week in an effort to gain allies amidst declining union membership and economic insecurity for blue-collar workers. The Canadian pipeline, which the United Steelworkers Union backs, is possibly the main point of disagreement between the labour and the green movement. The two, however, have made common cause over pro-green jobs legislation and other issues.

Public opinion on both sides of the border still favours an integrated energy policy, according to the latest annual poll by Ottawa-based Nanos Research and the State University of New York at Buffalo. However, the survey found that enthusiasm has cooled since Nanos and UB started polling Canadians and Americans on the subject nine years ago.

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Erica Alini is a reporter based in Cambridge, Mass., and a regular contributor to, where she covers the U.S. economy.
Follow @ealini