WASHINGTON The Senate energy committee on a vote of 13 to 9 Thursday passed a bill to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, moving closer to a confrontation with the president on the issue.
The House is expected to pass its own bill approving Keystone on Friday, followed by likely passage by the full Senate next week. President Obama has pledged to veto the bill, and it doesn’t appear there is enough Keystone support in Congress to override his veto.
"It is unfortunate that the Administration continues to stand in the way, even threatening to veto this important legislation," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the chair of the committee. "I don’t think that that threat should deter us as a committee, as a Senate, and really, as a Congress."
The measure passed the committee nearly on party lines, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., the only Democrat to join with the Republicans in supporting it.
The measure passed without amendments, but provided a preview of the arguments to come on the Senate floor. Democratic opponents of the bill called it a special interest giveaway to TransCanada, the Canadian company that’s proposing to build the pipeline.
"Who does this new Republican Congress work for, foreign oil companies or the American people?" said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
The pipeline would mostly bring Canadian oil from the Alberta oil sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Senators opposed to the bill said the heavy oil sands crude would be much harder to clean up in a spill than conventional crude, and argued that it could end up being exported without benefit to Americans.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., highlighted the additional greenhouse gas emissions required to extract the heavy crude, and said the pipeline would worsen climate change.
Republicans said the project would create construction jobs and help the U.S. cut down on sources of oil from outside of North America.
"It just amazes me we have to pass a law to let the government get out of the way and let the free market work," said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, who sponsored the bill, said the project has been studied for six years and the State Department found little environmental impact.
Obama has said that he is waiting for a Nebraska court ruling on the route and a final State Department ruling on whether Keystone is in the national interest before deciding whether Keystone should go.