WASHINGTON - The head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said Tuesday that instability in Ukraine makes the case for building the Keystone XL oil pipeline in the United States.
"Progress has been too slow," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. She said the proposed pipeline from Canada to the United States would contribute only marginally to air quality problems.
Landrieu sidestepped a question about President Barack Obama's hesitance to proceed with the pipeline. "I think he has some serious questions about how much it would contribute to the deteriorating climate situation," she said.
But Landrieu also argued that the need for energy independence in the United States is greater than ever.
"Americans look at what's happening in Russia and Ukraine - I think it sends shivers up their spine and it should," said Landrieu, who accused European countries of being "timid" in confronting President Vladimir Putin over Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine, a former Soviet bloc state.
The issue is looming in the Senate.
An oil industry group that supports the pipeline launched a five-state ad campaign Monday aimed at wavering senators, while an environmental group mobilized activists to urge lawmakers to vote against any attempt to force Obama to decide the pipeline's fate.
The lobbying by outside groups came as Democrats and Republicans bickered over whether to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill to end years of delay and build the proposed pipeline from Canada to the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he is open to a stand-alone vote on a pipeline bill, although some Republicans said the vote should occur as an amendment to energy efficiency legislation that could reach the Senate floor as soon as Tuesday.
Republican senators have prepared a host of amendments to the efficiency bill, including one that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Lawmakers from both parties also support a measure to speed approval of terminals to export liquefied natural gas, another complication as Reid and other Democratic leaders consider when and how to allow a vote on the energy efficiency bill.
Landrieu appeared on MSNBC.