WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House passed legislation Friday approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting the stage for a Senate showdown that mixes energy politics with a fight over Louisiana's Senate seat.
The vote was 252-161 in favor of the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., in an effort to boost his chances to take Louisiana's Senate seat away from Democrat Mary Landrieu. The two are headed for a Dec. 6 runoff and have been touting their energy credentials in their oil and gas-producing state.
Landrieu, who is facing an uphill battle to retain her seat, successfully pushed the Democratic-run Senate to hold a vote on the measure next week.
The bill was supported by 221 Republicans, and not a single GOP lawmaker voted against it. Thirty-one Democrats also backed the bill, while 161 rejected it.
"This will make it easier for the Senate to do right by the American people and finally vote on building the pipeline," Cassidy said in a statement after the vote, which marked the ninth time the House had passed a bill to speed up the pipeline's construction.
The project has been stalled by environmental reviews, by objections to the route it would take and by politics for six years. But the latest bid by House Republicans has the best chance of reaching President Barack Obama's desk. While the White House has issued veto threats on similar legislation before, it had yet to do so Friday.
Advocates say it will create thousands of jobs and aid energy security, but environmentalists warn of possible spills and say the pipeline will expedite development of some of the dirtiest oil available.
The State Department said in a Jan. 31 report that the project would not significantly boost carbon emissions because the oil was likely to find its way to market by other means. It added that transporting it by rail or truck would cause greater environmental problems than if the Keystone XL pipeline were built.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was time for the president to listen to the American people, especially after Republican gains in last week's midterm elections, and sign the bill.
"The president doesn't have any more elections to win, and he has no other excuse for standing in the way," Boehner said.
Senate supporters said they were confident they would have the 60 votes needed for passage come Tuesday. All 45 Senate Republicans are expected to back the legislation, but supporters have yet to publicly identify all of the Democrats who they say will vote for the measure.
Obama, questioned about the issue while traveling on the other side of the globe, said the administration's long-stalled review of the project cannot be completed before knowing the outcome of a legal challenge to the pipeline's route through Nebraska.
"I don't think we should short-circuit that process," he said at a news conference in Myanmar.
The 1,179-mile project is proposed to go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.