Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s vote against the Keystone XL pipeline in a Senate energy committee meeting Wednesday forces an issue he had hoped to avoid until after the election.
Udall has long been toeing a fine line on the energy issue — hoping to appeal to both his environmentalist base and the deep pockets of environmental activist and billionaire financier Tom Steyer as well as to his constituents, two-thirds of whom support the pipeline and want to see it built. (RELATED: Poll: Keystone XL pipeline looms large in Colorado Senate race)
Fellow Democrat and energy committee chair Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana forced his hand, however, by scheduling a mostly symbolic vote on the project in the hope of wooing support from the oil and gas industry in her own re-election bid.
The 12-10 vote in favor of the pipeline is probably meaningless, according to the Denver Post, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wouldn’t schedule a floor vote for the pipeline in order to fast-track its construction.
But for Udall, the vote could have serious political implications, as he has consistently ignored calls to define his position. In the past, Udall said he’d voted against the project in order to keep politics out of the environmental review process, even though a State Department report concluded months ago that the pipeline would have no appreciable effect on climate change.
His office adopted the same wait-and-see position in explaining Wednesday’s “no” vote.
“Sen. Udall intends to again reject the notion that lawmakers know better than the engineers, scientists and experts whose responsibility it is to evaluate the pipeline application on its merits,” a spokesman told National Review.
“If this pipeline were being routed through Colorado, my constituents would want to know that science — and not politics — determined the way forward,” Udall said in a statement to the Denver Post.
Gardner immediately seized on the excuse, calling it the “Keystone cop-out.” Even the Denver Post called the explanation a “dodge” in an editorial Thursday, saying, “It would be helpful to know Udall’s position before, not after, the Obama administration officially rules on Keystone.”
Udall is the only Democratic senator facing a tough re-election bid who hasn’t publicly supported the pipeline. A Democratic polling group in March reported that 66 percent of Coloradans supported it, including a plurality of Udall supporters. Fifty-two percent of those polled said they would be less likely to support him if he voted to block the pipeline construction.
But Udall is also trying to win the support of Steyer, who will spend $100 million on climate change issues and who hosted Udall at his San Francisco home. Environmentalists worry about the possibility of oil spills and the impact the pipeline may have on the environment.
“If Senator Udall actually listened to his constituents in Colorado, he would know that two-thirds of them support building the Keystone Pipeline,” Colorado Republican Party spokesman Matt Connelly said in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Unfortunately, Senator Udall is more concerned with impressing the Washington, D.C. cocktail party crowd and the extreme environmentalists propping up his sputtering campaign than he is with bringing additional jobs and energy security to Colorado.”
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