US senate advances pipeline despite Obama veto threat

Washington – Legislation approving construction of a major Canada-US oil pipeline cleared an initial Senate hurdle on Monday, a victory for newly empowered Republicans angling for a quick veto showdown with President Barack Obama.

If Obama follows through on his veto threat, it will become the first of what are expected to be numerous clashes with the Republican majorities now in control of both houses of Congress.

The 63-32 test vote was three more than the 60 required, and well above the level the highly controversial measure ever gained in recent years when Democrats controlled the Senate. The Republicans gained control of the Senate in November elections for the first time during Obama’s presidency, and they expanded their majority in the House.

The measure has sparked intense debate over the Keystone XL pipeline’s potential impact on employment and the environment. While the project was proposed six years ago, the White House opposes the legislation as long as the administration is still conducting its formal review.

The pipeline project, which is strongly advocated by Canada, has unanimous support from Republicans in Congress, but it divides Democrats. Environmentalists generally oppose the legislation, while several unions support it for the jobs it would create.

With more than enough votes at their command, Republican and Democratic supporters said they hoped the legislation could win final approval and be sent to the White House by the end of next week.

‘No reason to veto’

“President Obama has every reason to sign the jobs and infrastructure bill that we will pass,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He noted that the Nebraska Supreme Court had recently rejected a legal challenge brought by opponents, an obstacle the White House had cited.

Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, made the case for the opposition. He said that if constructed, the pipeline would carry “some of the dirtiest, most dangerous and most polluting oil in the world.” He called the project “anti-clear water, anti-clear air, anti-public health”.

The proposed 1 897km pipeline would begin in Canada, enter the US in Montana, cut across South Dakota and connect with an existing pipeline in Nebraska, that in turn reaches refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. It would carry an estimated 800 000 barrels of crude oil a day.

The Republican-controlled House passed pipeline legislation last week.

Despite support from some Democrats, the Republicans would face an uphill battle garnering the two-thirds votes needed to override a presidential veto.

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