Republicans will introduce a bill on Tuesday to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, setting the new Congress on a collision course with the White House over Barack Obama’s environmental agenda.
The Keystone XL bill aims to take the decision about the controversial pipeline out of the president’s hands. It is seen as the first shot in an all-out Republican offensive against the Democratic president’s environmental and health agenda.
The bill is expected to pass but it faces a potential veto from Obama.
Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who is the incoming head of the Senate energy committee, planned to introduce the bill on Tuesday, with hearings scheduled for Wednesday and a vote on the floor as early as next week, spokesman Robert Dillon said.
Murkowski’s bill would bypass the State Department, which has authority over the Keystone project, and grant immediate approval to TransCanada Corporation to “construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline”.
The legislation faces challenges from Republicans as well as Democrats pushing to attach various riders to the bill.
Republicans were considering measures that would block or delay Obama’s plans to curb carbon pollution from power plants. Such provisions, it is thought, would be even more likely to incur a presidential veto.
Dillon said Murkowski was focused on just moving ahead. “Her hope is to have a clean bill for Keystone so that we can get this out of the gate,” he said. “We just want to get it moved and through the floor, and to the president.”
Democrats meanwhile were considering a number of potential riders of their own, including measures that would force the Canadian company building the pipeline to keep all of the oil that flows through it in the US and use only US steel in its construction, and another that would expand financial incentives for solar energy.
With Democrats now holding only 46 votes in the Senate, however, these were unlikely to pass.
The final outcome of the bill will almost certainly depend on whether Obama uses his veto power.
The senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said repeatedly he intends to make Keystone the first order of business in the new Republican-controlled Congress.
The project, designed to deliver up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas gulf coast, has become a flash point for the broader debate about climate change.
The pipeline has faced repeated delays since TransCanada first proposed it seven years ago. The State Department will not render its final decision until later this year, after the courts in Nebraska resolve a dispute over the pipeline’s route.
Republicans have voted repeatedly to force approval of the pipeline. With the new Republican majority sworn in to the Senate on Tuesday, party leaders are confident they now have more than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and pass legislation. A similar bill last November fell one vote short of the 60-senator threshold.
Obama has repeatedly downplayed the benefits of the project but he has not said outright he would kill Keystone.
The White House refused to commit to a veto on Monday.
“We’ll see what the legislation actually includes before we start urging people to vote one way or the other,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said.
But campaigners are increasingly hopeful that Obama will veto the bill. In his year-end news conference last month, the president repeatedly downplayed Keystone’s purported economic benefits and said the pipeline would do more for Canadian oil companies than US consumers.
“I think there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the US economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where they’re getting their information from,” he said.
The pipeline has been a recurring headache for the White House.
Environmental campaigners say that if Obama is serious about climate change, he must block Keystone and stop Canada from expanding production of the oil from its tar sands that would flow through the pipeline, which is a far dirtier fuel source than conventional crude oil.
The November attempt to force construction of the pipeline – a gamble by the Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu – saw a number of Democrats supporting the project but still came up one vote short of the 60 required. The defeat ended Landrieu’s hopes of hanging on to her seat in a run-off election.
Republicans believe they have since picked up more votes from new senators such as West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito and Iowa’s Joni Ernst.
But not even TransCanada officials believe there are the numbers in the Senate to overcome a presidential veto – should Obama decide to exercise that authority.
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