Barack Obama Copyright Alex Wong, Getty Images
<p>The White House re-iterated Friday that President Barack Obama would veto the Keystone measure if it reaches his desk.</p>

Keystone Pipeline Gains US House Approval as Court Clears Roadblock

The bill now heads to the Senate, where debate on Keystone begins next week.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a Republican measure Friday authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, hours after a state court removed a legal roadblock to the controversial project's construction.

Lawmakers voted 266 to 153 to pass the bill that circumvents the White House, setting up the first major showdown between newly empowered Republicans who now control Congress and President Barack Obama, who has vowed to veto the measure.

Some 28 Democrats defied the president and voted with Republicans in support of the Canada-to-U.S. pipeline.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where debate on Keystone begins next week.

There is no excuse -- scientific or otherwise -- for the president to continue blocking the pipeline.

— House Speaker John Boehner

Keystone supporters received a huge boost early Friday when Nebraska's Supreme Court dismissed a suit challenging a proposed route of the pipeline.

That decision reversed a 2012 ruling that determined the governor had violated the state's constitution by bypassing regulators and approving the pipeline's route.

"On appeal, the state contends that the landowners lacked standing to sue and that L.B. 1161 is constitutional," the court said in a statement, referring to a law that allows major oil carriers to bypass regulatory procedures. 

Republicans said Obama, who so far has opposed Keystone due to environmental concerns, should consider the court verdict and the House vote as signs Americans are eager to move forward on the project.

"There is no excuse -- scientific or otherwise -- for the president to continue blocking the pipeline," House Speaker John Boehner said after the vote.

"An overwhelming majority of Americans support this job-creating energy project, and President Obama ought to respect their will and stop standing in the way."

 The high-court ruling removes one of the biggest legal roadblocks to constructing the mega-project, originally proposed in 2008 by builder TransCanada to allow crude oil from Alberta to be transported south to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The White House re-iterated Friday that Obama would veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

"Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president," deputy White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

It "prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests," he continued, added that the State Department was reviewing the ruling.

Republicans, who see Keystone as a top economic priority, now control both chambers of Congress. 

Passage of Keystone legislation is expected in the Senate, where at least six Democrats join all 54 Republicans in supporting the pipeline's construction. 

However, overcoming a presidential veto requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 Senate votes, which would be a heavy lift.

"Six years is beyond long enough," said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota where part of the pipeline is routed.

"The right decision for our country is to approve the project."

TransCanada's CEO Russ Girling, speaking before the House vote, said he was "very pleased" with the court's ruling.

"It removes what we believe is the stated reason for the delay in the presidential permit decision process, and obviously we hope that that review process can now pick up where it left off," he told a teleconference.

The U.S. State Department had suspended its review pending the court's ruling. Girling said he expects that process to be completed "in a couple of months." 

But Senate Democrat Maria Cantwell demanded comprehensive "due process" be given for the project and urged lawmakers not to intervene to score political points.

Writing on Twitter, she said it was "unusual that the U.S. Senate has been asked to vote on (a) bill siting a pipeline thru (the) US simply because (a) Canadian company wants us to do so."

Republicans argue the 1,179-mile (1,900-kilometer) project would boost national energy security and generate more than 40,000 construction jobs.

Democrats point to a State Department assessment that just 35 permanent jobs would be created.

Keystone would funnel crude from Alberta's oil sands, which environmentalists and other critics deride as "tar sands" that take more energy and water to process.

House Democrat Frank Pallone on Friday slammed the Keystone project as "enabling production of the dirtiest oil on the planet."

Republicans counter that moving oil by pipeline releases far fewer emissions than transporting it by rail or road.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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