Keystone XL foes flood senators with “vote no” messages

UPDATE: The activists claim to have met their goal. A counter on indicates that 600,000-plus messages have been sent.

Environmental activists are staging a 24-hour campaign to send 500,000 messages to senators urging them to oppose legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline that could come up for a vote in the Senate this week.

A coalition of groups including launched the campaign the same day a group of Republican senators filed a Keystone XL amendment they want to attach to the upper chamber’s bill for reauthorizing surface-transportation programs. That amendment counts Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., among its supporters.

“The next 24 hours are going to be a crucial time to show that the American people are sick and tired of this Senate circus and want Congress to stand with President Obama and kill the pipeline zombie once and for all,” the website says. The campaign runs from noon today until noon tomorrow.

Republicans in both chambers have been pushing legislation that would approve the pipeline as they seek to circumvent the Obama administration’s denial of a permit for the project on Jan. 18. Republicans call the decision a politically motivated tactic to punt again until after the elections, but the administration and President Obama himself have said the decision stemmed from the GOP’s successful effort to impose a decision deadline that didn’t provide enough time to do a crucial environmental review of a new route around environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska.

As Democrats hold 53 seats in the Senate, the amendment faces difficult odds. The amendment, which mirrors a bill fronted by Hoeven, would approve the pipeline from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries using Congress’ authority to regulate foreign commerce under the commerce clause of the Constitution. It would also give Nebraska the opportunity to pick and finalize a new route in its borders.

But Hoeven’s bill has just one Democratic cosponsor — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. And it’s unclear whether the amendment will even come up for a vote, much less be adopted, as Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have repeatedly expressed opposition to Keystone XL legislation.

“We will work to get a vote on it, but we don’t control the timing,” Neil Brown, an adviser to Lugar, said in an email.

Environmentalists strongly oppose the pipeline, saying it wouldn’t bring the jobs and energy security that supporters have claimed it would all while posing a pollution threat.

They also claim it would carry an especially dirty type of oil that requires more energy to extract than conventional oil does, putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Among the messages the campaign plans to deliver to the senators is a letter from 15 climate scientists who make that very argument.

“Adding this on top of conventional fossil fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control,” wrote the scientists, among them James Hansen, who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Supporters of the pipeline, who have long claimed it would create jobs and boost energy security, say that Canada will probably develop its tar sands no matter what and that it’s better to have the oil come to the U.S., where refineries are subject to stricter environmental standards.