The US Senate on Thursday approved a bill authorizing construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the United States, a Republican priority that faces a presidential veto.
After weeks of sometimes fierce debate, the bill passed with 62 votes to 36, with nine Democrats defying President Barack Obama to support a project that would transport crude from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries along the US Gulf Coast.
The measure, tweaked during a roller-coaster process in which more than 40 amendments to the bill received floor consideration, heads back to the House of Representatives.
The House approved its own Keystone legislation earlier this month and now must decide whether it passes the Senate measure or enters into bicameral conference to thrash out a compromise bill.
House Republican leaders were undecided on which path to take, but they applauded the Senate action.
A showdown with Obama looms.
“We hope President Obama will now drop his threat to veto this common-sense bill that would strengthen our energy security and create thousands and thousands of new, good-paying American jobs,” House Speaker John Boehner said.
Overcoming a presidential veto requires a two-thirds majority, and it would be a heavy lift to obtain 67 votes in the 100-member Senate.
Keystone XL was first proposed by builder TransCanada six years ago, but the US government’s extensive review process has dragged on for years.
Republicans — and some Democrats — hail the pipeline as a 1,179-mile (1,900-kilometer) shovel-ready project that would create 40,000 construction jobs and boost US energy security.
Republicans also argue that moving oil by pipeline releases far fewer emissions than transporting it by rail or road.
Many Democrats oppose it on environmental grounds, warning of the risks of pipeline leaks and how the “tar sands” oil takes more energy and water to process than conventional crude.
But the State Department, in its environmental impact assessment released last January, determined that Keystone would not likely alter overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Critics point to the State Department conclusion that just 35 of the Keystone’s jobs would be permanent.
“Our national goal should be to generate energy cleaner tomorrow than we do today, not to embrace tar sands oil that is 15-20 percent more pollution-intensive than conventional oil,” said Senate Democrat Tim Kaine, who opposed the legislation.
“Instead of accelerating the use of tar sands oil, we should grow our economy by embracing cleaner energy developed through American innovation.”
Senator Barbara Boxer attacked the project as a perk to Canadian industry, deriding Keystone as a “special hug and special kiss to a foreign oil company.”
– Tension, relief –
Republicans beamed after the vote.
“It’s a new day in the Senate (and) we actually have an accomplishment,” number two Senate Republican John Cornyn said on the floor.
The Keystone effort has dominated Senate action since early January, when Republicans seized control of the chamber after November’s midterm elections.
“There were some points of very clear tension around here,” acknowledged Senate Energy Committee chair Lisa Murkowski of oil-rich Alaska.
“But fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.”
While dozens of amendments failed to earn adoption, one amendment which asserted that “climate change is real and not a hoax” passed nearly unanimously, leading Democrats to declare a minor victory over long-skeptical Republicans.
“That was a step,” Senate Democrat Maria Cantwell said.
Republican lawmakers are ridiculed by critics for refusing to acknowledge that climate change is caused at least in part by human activity.
Democrats introduced amendments declaring as much, but the measures failed.