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The House on Friday passed legislation to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, setting the stage for a showdown in the Senate next week.     

The legislation was approved 252-161, with 31 Democrats joining Republicans in backing a construction permit for the controversial project, which would bring oil sands from Canada to refineries in the United States.

{mosads}Passage of the bill was hailed by its chief House sponsor, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is facing a runoff against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on Dec. 6 after neither won a majority in the general election.

Both Cassidy and Landrieu are trying to display their clout on energy issues in oil-rich Louisiana ahead of the runoff, putting Keystone front-and-center in the first days of the lame-duck session.

The Senate will vote next week on an identical Keystone bill sponsored by Landrieu, though it remains unclear whether she can corral the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles.

Landrieu said she’s confident the bill “could potentially receive the signature of the president of the United States” but acknowledged the White House hasn’t given her any commitment to signing it.

President Obama has sent strong signals that he would veto or delay signing of the bill, saying lawmakers should not “short-circuit” the federal review of Keystone that’s underway.

“I’ve been clear in the past. … My position hasn’t changed, that this is a process that is supposed to be followed,” Obama said at a press conference in Burma.

Environmental groups are pushing for a veto, arguing the president’s legacy on climate change hangs in the balance.

But a veto from Obama could deal a blow to Landrieu’s chances in the runoff, where she is already the underdog, trailing in polls. Shelving the bill would also open up the possibility that the new Republican Congress could mount a veto-proof majority for approving Keystone next year.

Republicans have hammered the president for holding up the project, arguing it would create jobs and move the United States toward energy independence. Cassidy on Friday noted that the Senate had failed to act on a Keystone bill for years under Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“The case for proving the Keystone XL pipeline is clear and obvious, so why hasn’t the president approved it? And, up to this point, why hasn’t Senator Reid allowed a vote on approving Keystone?” Cassidy said. “If there was ever legislation that should not be difficult to get through the Senate, it is the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Some Democrats pushed back, arguing the project would harm the environment and create a limited number of temporary construction jobs.

“The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a terrible deal for America. We get all the risks while the oil companies reap the rewards. But even if you support it, this bill is a harmful and unnecessary piece of legislation,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Waxman, who is being replaced by Rep.-elect Ted Lieu (D) in the new Congress, suggested that forcing construction of the pipeline through legislation was poor policy.

“There are a lot of very responsible people against this legislation, even some who support the pipeline, because they would argue this is not the way to make a decision: put a bill on the floor, to ignore all the comments, all the evaluations, all the considerations,” Waxman said.

But House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said the measure would force Obama to act.

“Unfortunately, just a small group of radical environmental extremists have held this project hostage, and President Obama has hidden behind studies and subterfuge to say, ‘Don’t do it,'” Scalise said. “Now, Congress can come together in a bipartisan way and say, ‘Let’s get this thing done.'”

The House has voted multiple times since Republicans took the majority in 2010 to approve the Keystone pipeline. Most recently, the House voted in September to authorize construction as part of a consolidated legislative package to boost domestic energy.

The State Department has been reviewing the pipeline proposal for the six years, with a decision most recently delayed by litigation in Nebraska.

— Laura Barron-Lopez contributed.

Tags Harry Reid Mary Landrieu
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