A U.S. Senate panel gave its stamp of approval Thursday to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up debate next week on the contentious project President Barack Obama has vowed to veto.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee, controlled by Republicans after November elections gave them the Senate majority, voted 13 to 9 to authorize construction of the pipeline that would transport crude oil from Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
All Democrats except Senator Joe Manchin opposed the bill.
The House of Representatives is expected to pass an identical measure on Friday, bringing the project that has languished in regulatory limbo for six years closer to fruition and posing a direct challenge to Obama in the first days of a Republican-led Congress.
Senator Maria Cantwell urged Republican lawmakers to rein in their zeal about the project and let the regulatory process play out rather than force construction along a route through the American heartland that is still being contested in a Nebraska court.
"There are too many important environmental issues to consider instead of giving a foreign company a special-interests sweetheart deal from Congress that even U.S. businesses haven't gotten," said Cantwell, referring to provisions that would allow the project's builder to avoid paying certain U.S. taxes.
"My message to TransCanada Corporation is to play by the rules."
Republican leaders have stressed Keystone is a top priority for them in early 2015, and that administrative delays are hampering a shovel-ready project that would create tens of thousands of temporary construction jobs.
"It's gone through the process for six years -- for six years -- and it's still not through the process. Americans won World War II in a shorter amount of time," argued Senator John Hoeven.
Because the pipeline crosses an international border, the Obama administration has taken the lead on its authorization. But following years of environmental studies and legal proceedings, Obama, who has expressed concern that Keystone would hasten climate change, has yet to grant the permit.
Congressional Republicans seek to bypass the administration with legislation authorizing the pipeline's construction.
They said the project creates jobs and boosts U.S. energy security.
My message to TransCanada Corporation is to play by the rules.
— Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
Most Democrats are sensitive to the arguments of environmentalists, who fear the risks of a spill along the 1,179-mile pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska.
TransCanada separated the southern portion into a project that did not require White House approval, and is currently under construction.
Environmentalists note that in 2010, an Enbridge pipeline spilled more than three million liters of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
The White House has said Obama would veto the bill should it reach his desk. The House and Senate would only be able to overcome the veto with a two-thirds majority.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015