Keystone vote set to pass U.S. House today, move to Senate

The Republican-controlled House is on track to pass a bill Friday to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and this time, the Senate may follow next week, raising the possibility of a presidential veto.

The bill marks the ninth attempt by the House to secure approval of the pipeline, which has been repeatedly delayed by environmental reviews, legal challenges to its route and politics. Prior votes in the Senate on the issue have failed to get enough votes, but supporters said Thursday they were close to reaching that threshold.

Both the GOP and Senate Democrats hope the votes will give an edge to their party’s candidate in the Louisiana Senate race, where Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and Sen. Mary Landrieu are headed for a runoff and both touting their energy credentials in an oil and gas-producing state.

While Landrieu pushed for the vote planned in the Senate next week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky credited the Republican sponsor, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, for the progress Thursday.

“We never would have gotten to this point without the tireless leadership of Sen. Hoeven in the Senate, and Congressman Cassidy in the House,” said McConnell. “Like the experts, Sen. Hoeven also knows that Keystone would also have almost zero net effect on our climate.”

Presidential veto likely

The Washington Post, citing aides, reported Thursday that Obama is prepared to veto the bill. His reasoning would be that the State Department hasn’t completed its review of the process, and that state supreme court in Nebraska, through which the pipeline would pass, has yet to rule on a key part of the pipeline’s route.

The bill specifically accepts a U.S. environmental impact study issued by the secretary of state in January, saying it “shall be considered to fully satisfy” other pending environmental and endangered species reviews.

As well, the bill mandates that any appeal against permit requirements must be expedited straight to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The White House stopped short of directly threatening a veto of the Keystone legislation, but spokesman Josh Earnest, travelling in Asia with Obama, said the president takes a “dim view” of legislative efforts to force action on the project.

Environmentalists have framed the issue as a significant test of Obama’s commitment to address climate change. Republicans, and the State Department’s review, say the pipeline won’t have a significant impact on global warming and thus should be green-lighted.

The 1,700-kilometre project is proposed to go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Advocates say it will create thousands of jobs and aid energy security, but environmentalists warn of possible spills and say the pipeline will expedite development of some of the dirtiest oil available.

The State Department said in a Jan. 31 report the project would not significantly boost carbon emissions because the oil was likely to find its way to market by other means. It added that transporting it by rail or truck would cause greater environmental problems than if the Keystone XL pipeline were built.

For Obama, the votes offer a preview of what is to come on energy and environmental issues when Republicans take over the Senate next year, giving them control of Congress. McConnell and other Republican leaders have vowed to rein in Obama’s plans on the climate and pass legislation to greatly expand energy production and expedite energy exports.

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