WASHINGTON – The House overwhelmingly passed a bill on Friday authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite a renewed pledge by the White House to veto the legislation after a Nebraska court removed a major obstacle.
The House voted 266-153 to approve measure, with 28 Democrats voting in support. It was one of the first pieces of legislation considered by the Republican-controlled Congress and the 10th vote the House had taken since July 2011 to advance the $7 billion project, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.
“We shouldn’t be debating it, we should be building it,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who noted that more than 2,000 days had passed since the pipeline was first proposed in 2008.
The Senate has a test vote on Monday with enough support to pass an identical bill, but not enough votes to overcome a presidential veto. The House vote on Friday fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto as well.
Hours before the House vote, Nebraska’s highest court tossed out a lawsuit challenging the pipeline’s route, an obstacle the White House said it needed removed before deciding whether the cross-border pipeline is in the national interest.
The White House veto threat was based partly on the outstanding Nebraska case.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, following the court’s decision, renewed a call for Obama to reconsider his promise to veto the measure.
“Today’s ruling provides the perfect opportunity for the president to change his unproductive posture on this jobs project and reverse his veto threat,” McConnell said. “The president now has every reason to sign it.”
A White House spokesman said the court’s decision did not change the administration’s “posture and position” on the bill.
“Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests, and if presented to the president, he will veto the bill,” said deputy press secretary Eric Schultz in a statement.
Earlier this week, the White House said Obama will veto the bill if it passes Congress because it “would authorize the project despite uncertainty due to ongoing litigation in Nebraska”– a phrase frequently repeated by supporters and read aloud by McCarthy on the floor during debate.
On Friday, the court let stand a 2012 state law that allows the governor to empower Calgary-based TransCanada to force eastern Nebraska landowners to sell their property for the project.
If the decision had gone the other way, the State Department, which is in charge of evaluating the pipeline’s environmental risks, may have had do additional analysis.
Environmentalists, who have long framed the decision over the pipeline as a test of Obama’s commitment to fight climate change, said Friday that it still fails the climate test and that Obama should reject it outright.
The pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Texas refineries along a proposed 1,179-mile route through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma along the way.
“No matter the route, as long as the pipeline is carrying tar sands oil it is a global warming disaster and fails the president’s climate test,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, an advocacy group that arranged many of the massive protests against the project. “It’s time for President Obama to build on his veto threat and reject Keystone XL outright.
Republicans say Obama is derailing a bipartisan bill to improve the nation’s energy infrastructure that the majority of Americans want. The $5.4 billion project, which would move tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, was first proposed in 2008.
“The president has been hiding behind the Nebraska court case to block this critical jobs project,” said Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, hours before the House was supposed to start debate on the bill. “With that contrived roadblock cleared, the White House is now out of excuses and out of time.”
But in the face of a veto threat, Democrats called the bill a waste of time Friday.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said building the pipeline would increase reliance on Canadian tar sands oil and reverse the strides to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming Obama has made.
“We get all the risk,” he said, “while the oil companies will reap all the rewards.”