U.S. Congress set to pass bill approving Keystone

The United States Congress is set to send a bill approving the privately funded Canadian Keystone XL oil pipeline project to President Barack Obama, who has vowed to veto it.

WASHINGTON — The United States Congress is set to send a bill approving the privately funded Canadian Keystone XL oil pipeline project to President Barack Obama, who has vowed to veto it.

The House is expected to pass the bill easily Wednesday, capping weeks of debate over one of Republicans’ top priorities — a bill authorizing the construction of the much-delayed pipeline project of Calgary based TransCanada Corp.

However, support in both the Senate and House has not been enough to override a veto, and backers of the bill said they are already strategizing ways to get it approved by other means, such as attaching it to a broader energy or spending bill.

The pipeline has exposed larger divisions between environmentalists concerned about global warming and potential oil spills against supporters who argue that the $8 billion project will create jobs and boost U.S. energy security. One of the measures added to the bill by the Senate states that climate change is not a hoax, which could make some conservative Republicans think twice.

“We’re going to continue to keep our promise to the people by finishing our work on the Keystone pipeline,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Wednesday before the vote. Boehner said the president was listening to “left-fringe extremists” rather than the American people.

“The president needs to listen to the American people and say ’yes, let’s build the Keystone pipeline,”’ Boehner said.

The pipeline is the first of many standoffs expected between Obama and Republicans on energy and environment.

As the House prepared to vote on the bill, the Senate environment panel on Wednesday planned to hold its first hearing examining the Obama administration’s plans to curb heat-trapping carbon dioxide from power plants. The initiative is the cornerstone of Obama’s efforts to curb global warming.

The House is also expected to unveil a larger energy bill next week.

Obama has rejected previous attempts to force his hand on the Keystone XL pipeline, saying he wanted the review process to play out and to ensure the pipeline wouldn’t exacerbate global warming. The pipeline was first proposed in 2008.

While the State Department’s January 2014 analysis said Canada’s oilsands would be developed regardless of whether the pipeline was approved — meaning the pipeline itself would not increase greenhouse gas emissions — the Environmental Protection Agency has said that analysis needs to be revisited because of lower oil prices.

TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), meanwhile, has written to the U.S. State Department to dispute the EPA’s latest criticism.

The company takes issue with the EPA report, which said the recent drop in oil prices will increase Keystone’s contribution to greenhouse gases and climate change.

Among other things, TransCanada says the EPA’s conclusions aren’t supported by the State Department’s analysis or by actual market prices and production rates since the company first applied for approval in 2008.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell of Kentucky urged Obama to sign the bill on Wednesday, saying it was “common sense.”

“So Americans are urging President Obama not to interfere in the review process for political reasons any longer,” McConnell said. “Americans are urging the president to finally heed scientific conclusions his own State Department already reached.”

Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, the chief Republican sponsor of the bill in the Senate, also called on the president to approve the project. The pipeline would carry oil from Canadian oilsands to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The pipeline would also carry some of the oil from North Dakota’s oil boom

“The president needs to work with Congress in a bipartisan way and approve the Keystone XL pipeline project for the American people,” Hoeven said.

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