The Senate on Thursday passed a bill to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, which President Obama is certain to veto in his first official clash with the new Republican-majority Congress.
The five-year fight over the Keystone pipeline has become a proxy symbol for far broader fights over climate change, energy and the economy, and for the conflict between Mr. Obama and congressional Republicans.
When Republicans won control of the Senate late last year, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the new majority leader, chose the Keystone bill as the first measure Republicans would send to Mr. Obama.
The White House promptly declared that Mr. Obama would veto the measure — which would force the approval of a proposed 1,179-mile oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico — in a stroke of the pen that is expected to be the opening shot in a series of vetoes of Republican measures.
The Senate voted 62 to 36 in favor of building the pipeline.
Passage of the Senate bill sends the measure back to the House, which passed a largely similar bill earlier this month. House leaders are still deciding whether to simply pass the Senate bill as it is, or to hold a conference merging the House and Senate bills into a new bill, which would then be voted on by each chamber.
Either way, however, the bill is expected to reach the president’s desk as soon as next week.
Mr. Obama, who currently retains authority to approve or deny the permitting of the pipeline because it crosses an international border, is expected to veto the bill because it would remove his executive authority to make the final decision.
But pressure is mounting on him from both sides to at last make that decision, which has been pending since he first took office.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he was waiting for all reviews and processes to be completed before he made a final decision. In 2013, Mr. Obama said that his verdict on the pipeline would be based on whether or not its construction would worsen climate change. But an 11-volume State Department environmental review of the proposed pipeline, released last year, concluded that its construction would not significantly increase the rate of planet-warming pollution into the atmosphere.
After that review was released, Mr. Obama said that he would not issue a decision until a court case in Nebraska over the pipeline’s route through that state was settled. Earlier this month, the Nebraska court cleared the way for the pipeline’s construction through that state.
Mr. Obama has also said that he wants to wait until a series of reviews by additional cabinet agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Defense, Interior, Homeland Security and Commerce, are complete.
The deadline for those reviews, aimed at determining whether the project is in the national interest, is on Monday.
Advocates on both sides of the debate are urging Mr. Obama to make a decision soon, and some people familiar with Mr. Obama’s thinking say that after all the years of deliberation and delay, he could weigh in as soon as February.
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SOURCE: N.Y. Times