The U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, moving toward a showdown with President Barack Obama, who has said he would veto the measure.
The House’s 266-153 vote today fell short of the two-thirds that would be required to override Obama’s veto. All but one Republican voted for the measure, joined by 28 Democrats.
The passage sends the matter to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he’s confident the new Republican majority has enough votes to pass a bill and send it to Obama.
Republicans seized on a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling today, clearing the pipeline’s route in that state, to argue that Obama is “out of excuses” for delaying a decision on whether to authorize the pipeline first proposed in 2008.
“If today’s ruling is still not enough to move the president to approve the project, Congress will force that decision,” McConnell of Kentucky said.
Democrats in both chambers say there are enough votes to sustain a presidential veto of the legislation, and call the Republicans’ continued pressure on this issue a distraction. The Senate plans a test vote Monday, and afterward senators will begin considering amendments. The chamber may spend several weeks on the measure.
Backers say the pipeline will create jobs and reduce U.S. reliance on imported oil from Venezuela or the Middle East. Environmentalists say it would worsen climate change by encouraging development of oil sands, which are more carbon-intensive than other forms of oil.
“There is simply no reason to delay,” Representative Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said on the floor before the vote. “This pipeline will be a tremendous boon to the economy, economic development, and one that does not require a single federal dollar.”
The committee’s top Democrat, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, disputed the assertion that the pipeline would lead to energy independence and lower U.S. gasoline prices.
“Maybe it’s lower prices at the pump in China or Japan or someplace, but it isn’t going to be here, because the product is ultimately going to be exported,” DeFazio said.
The State Department, which had shelved its review of the project while the Nebraska high court decided the case, will now resume work on its national interest determination, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said today. She offered no time frame for completing the review.
“We are going to let that process play out,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. The threat to veto the bill authorizing construction of the pipeline still stands, he said, because the measure conflicts with executive authority over the approval process. The bill is H.R. 3.
The Keystone XL pipeline would funnel crude from Alberta’s oil sands to a network junction in southeast Nebraska for transport to Gulf Coast refineries.
Completion has been stalled by litigation and political wrangling, helping increase its price tag to $8 billion from $5.4 billion. The lower portion of the pipeline has been completed at a cost $2.3 billion.
Keystone XL is one of at least four major Canadian export pipeline proposals to carry surging oil-sands output, which is expected to more than double to 4.8 million barrels a day by 2030, according to a June forecast from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
Oil-sands production rose to a record of 2.3 million barrels a day in October, according to Alberta Energy Regulator data.
Though its long-term employment forecast would be slight -- as few as 50 full-time jobs after construction is completed -- the project has become a potent economic issue. Republicans used it in their campaign to take Senate control in the Nov. 4 election, touting the delays as evidence Obama wasn’t doing enough to create jobs and encourage energy independence.
Still, falling oil prices have undercut some of the political power and commercial justification for the project. Democrats today made reference to the classic 1993 Bill Murray film in saying it was Groundhog Day with the 10th vote by the House to approve the pipeline.