The House of Representatives voted 266-153 Friday to flout a White House veto threat and pass legislation approving the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline.
Keystone XL has become the focus of a national debate over climate change and American energy independence. And Capitol Hill consideration of the pipeline sets up the first major clash between the Republican Congress and the White House as President Obama looks to shore up an environmental legacy in his remaining days in office.
House passage tees up a Senate vote on an identical bill expected to take place in the coming weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called for swift approval of the project, which would send heavy crude from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and a filibuster-proof majority of support awaits in the upper-chamber.
Friday's vote on legislation sponsored by Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota marks the tenth time the House has voted to approve or speed a decision on the controversial project since Republicans took the reins of the lower chamber in 2011. The bill did not pass with enough votes to override a veto.
Senate Democrats have blocked past legislative attempts to authorize construction of the pipeline. But a Republican sweep in November's midterm elections changed the political math. And the Senate is now expected to approve the pro-Keystone bill.
Supporters say the project would create jobs and bolster energy security. Opponents disagree, arguing that Keystone would worsen climate change and speed development of the Canadian oil sands.
The Senate will begin debate on its version of the pro-Keystone legislation early next week; it is sponsored by Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
But despite the likelihood of Senate passage, the fate of Keystone XL remains unclear.
Obama threw cold water on the effort to advance the oil-sands pipeline earlier this week when the White House issued a veto threat on the legislation. The administration has said it wants its review of the project to play out, a process that was put on hold in April due to legal uncertainty over Keystone XL's route through Nebraska.
That legal certainty has now been resolved following a state Supreme Court ruling in Nebraska on Friday that green-lighted the pipeline's path through the state.
White House press secretary Eric Schultz said on Friday that the administration's veto threat for pro-KXL legislation still stands, despite the court ruling.
Obama has sounded increasingly skeptical of the project's merits in recent weeks.
The president downplayed the pipeline's potential to create jobs and warned that it could add to the problem of climate change at an end-of-the-year press conference last month.
"Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will probably create a couple thousand jobs"¦. But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country... we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that's the argument there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying American construction jobs," Obama said.
The president has pledged not to approve Keystone XL if it significantly adds to atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.
A State Department review of the pipeline concluded that the pipeline would have only a minimal environmental impact, but Obama continues to raise concerns over the potential for Keystone to worsen global warming.
"I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it's not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people," the president said during his December press conference.
McConnell's pledge to allow an open amendment process during Senate debate on the bill and the possibility that a wide variety of amendments may be tacked on has also cast uncertainty on the outcome of the vote.
For now, supporters and opponents of the project alike are scrambling to sway the vote. But it looks unlikely that Congress will be able to override a presidential veto.
Rachel Roubein and Jason Plautz contributed to this article
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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