Congress clears Keystone XL pipeline bill, setting up Obama veto showdown

World Today

Congress Keystone XL pipelineMiles of pipe ready to become part of the Keystone Pipeline are stacked in a field near Ripley, Okla. on Feb. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The Republican-controlled U.S. Congress approved a bill Wednesday to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up a confrontation with President Barack Obama, who has threatened to veto the measure.

First proposed in 2008, the 1,179 mile (1,900 kilometer) pipeline that would carry oil from Canada’s western tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico has come to symbolize the differences between the political parties on energy and environmental matters. It it is likely to be the first of many skirmishes between the Republican-controlled Congress and with the White House.

The House voted 270-152 to send the bill to the president, endorsing changes made by the Senate that stated climate change was real and not a hoax, and oil sands should no longer be exempt from a tax used to cleanup oil spills. Only one Republican voted against the measure.

But neither chamber has enough support to overcome a veto, and supporters were already strategizing on how to secure the pipeline’s approval using other legislative means.

“The evidence is in. The case ought to be closed,” said Rep. Fred Upton, the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

For Republicans, the bill’s passage capped weeks of debate on a top priority after they took control of Congress last month. Hours before the vote, they prodded Democrats who did not take their side.

Democrats, meanwhile, called the effort a waste of time but said the provisions on global warming and oils spills marked progress for Republicans on those issues.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Demcorat, said the bill was another example of Republicans prioritizing legislation to demonstrate a message, regardless of its chances of becoming law. The vote Wednesday marked the 11th attempt by Republicans to advance the pipeline.

“The last few years have been like a hamster on a wheel — spinning and spinning and not getting anywhere,” said Hastings, who at one point held up a toy that looked like the rodent.

Republicans and the oil industry have argued the $8 billion infrastructure project is about jobs and boosting energy security, by importing oil from a friendly neighbor and shipping it to domestic refineries subject to stringent environmental regulations. Democrats, and their environmental allies, have characterized it as a gift to the oil industry that would worsen global warming and subject parts of the country to the risks of an oil spill.

“We need more than an authorization to use military force; we need a long-term strategy for national security that includes energy security,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, said in a statement. “President Obama now has ten days to sign or veto this bill. If he vetoes it, we will continue to press for approval by attaching an approval measure to another bill, perhaps an energy bill or must-pass appropriations legislation.”

Article includes reporting by by The Associated Press