House OKs Keystone XL pipeline

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WASHINGTON — Defying a presidential veto threat, the House of Representatives passed a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The vote was 266-153, with more than two dozen Democrats joining nearly all Republicans to pass the measure. It was the first time the legislation passed in the new session of Congress which began Tuesday, but the tenth time the GOP-controlled House has sent a bill approving the pipeline to the Senate.

Rep. Justin Amash, of Michigan, was the only Republican to vote “present,” and 28 Democrats voted to approve the measure.

Congressional Republicans have made the pipeline one of their first priorities in the new session, arguing it would created tens of thousands of jobs, and pointing out the measure has received Democratic support. A Senate committee passed its Keystone legislation on Thursday, and the bill is scheduled for a vote later this month. Senate GOP leaders are confident they have enough votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster on the bill, but they do not believe they can sustain a veto.

The White House says it’s waiting on the State Department to review a new court ruling that effectively removes a major block to the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The State Department is examining the court’s decision as part of its process to evaluate whether the Keystone XL Pipeline project serves the national interest. As we have made clear, we are going to let that process play out,” Eric Schultz, White House principal deputy press secretary, said Friday.

His statement comes after the Nebraska Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling that was stalling construction of the pipeline, which would run through several states and carry oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

President Barack Obama has said he was awaiting final word by the Nebraska court before determining whether to grant TransCanada, the firm building the pipeline, a presidential permit to move forward with remaining construction.

The decision reverses a lower court decision that had ruled the pipeline unconstitutional. While a majority of the court’s seven justices sided with landowners who were fighting Gov. Dave Heineman’s plans to OK the pipeline’s construction, a super majority of five justices were needed in order to rule his decision unconstitutional and block the pipeline’s development.

Opponents say the pipeline would run a significant risk to the environment, while proponents argue it will boost jobs and lessen American dependence on Middle Eastern oil. The State Department earlier this year released a long-anticipated report saying the completion of the pipeline would have little impact on carbon emissions.

“President Obama is now out of excuses for blocking the Keystone pipeline and the thousands of American jobs it would create. Finally, it’s time to start building,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

Schultz reiterated that Obama would veto the House bill, saying it “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.

With Republicans now in control of the Senate, they’ve pledged to make the issue a priority in the new Congress. The Senate Energy Committee approved legislation to complete the project on Thursday, and a procedural vote is expected on the measure Monday in the full Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Obama Friday in a statement to reconsider his veto threat and said the Senate would soon pass a proposal to approve the project. “The president now has every reason to sign it,” McConnell said.

TransCanada is waiting for U.S. approval to finish construction on 1,200 miles of pipeline known as Keystone XL, which would complete a partially built pipeline network that runs 3,800 miles. The incomplete part of the pipeline would run through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.