WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled Senate moved Thursday toward passage of a bipartisan bill approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, defying a presidential veto threat and setting up the first of many expected battles with the White House over energy and the environment.
The Senate planned to vote on the bill later Thursday, advancing a top priority of the newly empowered GOP. It is one of the first bills to draw a veto threat from President Barack Obama.
The vote caps weeks of debate that was often messy and on one occasion had the Senate in session into the early morning. Dozens of additions to the bill were considered, but only a handful, such as getting the Senate on the record that climate change is not a hoax, made it into the measure.
“The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. But the Keystone jobs debate has been important for the Senate and for our country,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Thursday before the vote. “The Keystone infrastructure project has been studied endlessly, from almost every possible angle, and the same general conclusion keeps becoming clear: Build it.”
The bill has 60 Republican and Democratic sponsors — enough to pass, but not enough to override a presidential veto. It authorizes construction of the 1,179-mile pipeline, which would carry oil primarily from Canada’s tar sands to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.
First proposed in 2008, the $8 billion project has been beset by delays in Nebraska over its route and at the White House, where the president has resisted prior efforts by Congress to force him to make a decision. In 2012, Obama rejected the project after Congress attached a measure to a payroll tax cut extension that gave him a deadline to make a decision. The pipeline’s developer, TransCanada Corp., then reapplied.
Environmental groups have called on Obama to reject the project outright, saying it would make it easier to tap a dirty source of energy that would exacerbate global warming. The State Department’s analysis, assuming higher oil prices, found that shipping it by pipelines to rail or tankers would be worse for the planet.
Supporters say the pipeline is a critical piece of infrastructure that will create thousands of jobs during construction and boost energy security by importing oil from a friendly neighbor.
DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press