Bennet and Udall split over Keystone Pipeline

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A big crowd on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. protesting against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico.

DENVER — On Friday, when the U.S. Senate voted on whether to support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport Canadian oil to the Gulf of Mexico, nearly every vulnerable Democratic senator facing reelection in 2014, from Montana’s Max Baucus to Alaska’s Mark Beigich, voted yes along with Republicans.

And then there’s Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, facing his first reelection challenge in the Senate, who voted no.

“Sen. Udall voted against both the Democratic and Republican Keystone XL amendments during the budget debate because he believed they injected politics into a process that is progressing as it should at the State Department — on the merits and using objective, scientific analysis,” said Mike Saccone, Udall’s spokesman.

Just as interesting: Udall’s Colorado counterpart, Sen. Michael Bennet, despite being chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that’s tasked with getting Udall and other Democrats reelected next year, voted in favor of constructing the pipeline.

All 45 Senate Republicans voted yes.

The 62-37 Senate vote on the Keystone amendment, like the budget debate in which it occurred, was non-binding; but it clarified divisions among Democrats, caught between a White House and the environmental groups within the party’s base both pushing to tackle climate change and the political risks of saying no to project that is expected to create thousands of jobs.

Bennet also voted in favor of an amendment from Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California that proposed additional analysis of the Keystone XL project; that amendment was defeated.

“Sen. Bennet believes the Keystone pipeline should go through the proper
process and be judged on its merits,” said Adam Bozzi, Bennet’s spokesman.

“He supports a comprehensive approach to our energy policy and also voted for amendments supporting a carbon tax and EPA’s authority to clean up power plants. Michael’s priority is that – on the balance – new energy policies are avoiding more carbon pollution than they’re causing.”

But that explanation isn’t good enough for Colorado’s environmental community.

“Big Oil’s billions may have carried the day on this vote, but the decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline remains where it’s been all along – with Secretary Kerry and President Obama,” said Conservation Colorado’s Pete Maysmith. “The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward, risking massive oil spills on American waterways so this company can ship oil to places like China.

“We are deeply disappointed that a usually pro-environment senator like Michael Bennet would take an anti-environment vote by supporting this amendment.”

Udall’s vote drew criticism too — from Colorado Republicans.

“If Sen. Udall has a choice between saving an elk or helping a struggling family obtain a good job, he’s going to side with the elk every time,” said Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call in a statement Monday afternoon.

No Republicans have announced plans to challenge Udall at this point.