In the latest move of what has become a chess match between the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 270-152 on a bill to construct the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Twenty-nine Democrats joined 214 Republicans in passing the bill, S-1. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was the only Republican to vote no, along with 151 Democrats.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Amash said, "the latest [Keystone XL] bill combines the cronyism of previous bills -- specially exempting one private company from the laws and regulations that apply to all other companies -- with new, unrelated sections empowering the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] and the federal government with respect to local energy efficiency. I voted no."
S-1 authorizes TransCanada Corp. to construct and operate the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta to the Gulf Coast and transport 830,000 b/d to U.S. refineries, including 100,000 b/d from the Bakken Shale (see Shale Daily, May 7, 2012).
The bill will now be sent to President Obama, who last month promised to veto it (see Shale Daily, Jan. 9;Jan. 6). According to reports, the bill will officially be sent to the president the week of Feb. 23, after a week-long congressional break.
As of Thursday afternoon, there was no official comment from the White House on the House passage of S-1.
Although some Democrats in both chambers of Congress support the bill, Republicans do not appear to have enough votes to override a possible veto. An override would require a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers -- 290 in the House and 67 in the Senate, assuming every lawmaker is present and votes.
Despite that math, Republicans sounded defiant and promised to keep fighting.
"President Obama now has 10 days to sign or veto this bill," Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), the bill's sponsor, said Wednesday. "If he vetoes it, we will continue to press for approval by attaching an approval measure to another bill, perhaps an energy bill or must-pass appropriations legislation. He needs to work with Congress in a bipartisan way and approve the Keystone XL pipeline project for the American people."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said "powerful special interests may be demanding that the president veto [S-1], but we hope he won't. If the president does ultimately bow to these special interest demands, that's a discussion we can have then. But either way, Americans should know this: the new Congress won't stop pursuing good ideas."
The House passed a companion bill, H-3, by a 266-153 vote on Jan. 9 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 9). But the Senate's version, S-1, includes several amendments. Among them, a statement that climate change is real, that oilsands are not exempt from a tax to clean up oil spills, and a call for energy efficiency measures in federal and other buildings. S-1 passed the Senate, 62-36, on Jan. 29 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 29; Jan. 22).
"Democrats and Republicans in the House have now joined their colleagues in the Senate to approve this pipeline," said American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard. "The American people want the 42,000 jobs this pipeline would create. This bipartisan effort shows that Congress is listening to their constituents. We continue to urge the president to reconsider his veto threat, support the will of the people and prove that Washington can govern and enact meaningful energy policy."
Environmental groups had a different take. "The only thing Congressional Republicans accomplished with this vote is a show of unflinching loyalty to their Big Oil campaign donors who put this tar sands pipeline at the top of their wish list," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "President Obama has made it clear he will veto this toxic legislation, clearing the way for his administration to finish its assessment of the damage this dangerous project will do to our air, water, land and climate.
"We are confident that assessment will find that Keystone XL fails the president's climate test and is therefore not in our national interest, meaning it must be rejected once and for all."
Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, said S-1 was a "dirty and dangerous bill...headed straight for a well-deserved veto.
"On the heels of the EPA's confirmation that Keystone XL fails his climate test, we commend President Obama for his commitment to veto the bill and urge him to reject the pipeline permit once and for all. We couldn't agree more with President Obama that we must set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline (see Shale Daily, Jan. 21). After the hottest year on record, it's long past time for Republican leaders in Congress to finally stand with the majority of Americans who support the president's climate agenda rather than continuing to cater to their polluter allies."