House sends Keystone to Obama

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The House voted Wednesday to approve legislation authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, setting up the first major veto of Obama’s presidency.

Passage fell largely along party lines in a 270-152 vote, with 29 Democrats joining all but one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), in supporting the pipeline.

The White House has repeatedly said President Obama will veto the legislation, and Republicans do not appear to have the two-thirds majority in either chamber to override him.

The only mystery left is when and how Obama will announce the veto.

It could be a tricky situation for the president, who might not want to be overly confrontational with Democrats and labor groups that back constructing the pipeline.

Obama has argued the legislation is disrupting a long-established process that gives the executive branch exclusive authority to issue permits for cross-border pipelines.

That process is slowly moving along, with the State Department considering comments from the public and other federal agencies about whether Keystone would be in the country’s “national interest.”

The State Department had paused its consideration for eight months last year, while landowners fought Nebraska authorities over the pipeline’s route.

Comments from federal agencies were due to the State Department by Feb. 2, but the Obama administration has not set a time frame for the department’s determination, Secretary of State John Kerry’s recommendation to Obama or the president’s final decision.

Keystone supporters argue the pipeline would create jobs and make the U.S. less reliant on oil from the Middle East. Some urged Obama to reconsider his veto threat during debate over the bill.

“I think he should sign this bill, because we all agree we need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, and pipelines are critical to the economy,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

The administration has argued the pipeline would create relatively few jobs, and green groups argue it would greatly contribute to global warming.

Keystone would run from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries on Texas’s Gulf Coast.

“This bill grants a regulatory earmark to TransCanada Corp., effectively exempting TransCanada’s Keystone tar sands pipeline from all federal permitting requirements,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “We don’t need this dirty oil.”

Wednesday’s vote represents the 11th time the House has passed legislation to build Keystone. It follows a 62-36 vote in the Senate.

The House originally passed a bill approving the pipeline during the first week of the new Congress. The Senate version approved by the House on Wednesday includes a number of minor amendments, such as provisions to encourage energy efficiency and a nonbinding recognition that climate change is real.