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House passes Keystone pipeline bill as White House threatens veto

Valerie Schonewill and several others protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Jan. 5, 2015, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Argus Leader, Elisha Page)
Valerie Schonewill and several others protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Jan. 5, 2015, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The House voted to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday while the Senate moved closer to a vote of its own, defying a veto threat from the White House over the legislation.

The vote was 266-153, including 28 Democrats who voted in favor of the project. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a similar Keystone bill as the first piece of legislation for the year and members will take it up Monday.

Environmentalist groups have protested the proposed pipeline between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico for years, arguing it will be used to carry a type of crude oil that produces more emissions scientifically linked to climate change than other forms of energy. Proponents tout the jobs that would be created constructing it. 

Keystone supporters got a boost Friday morning with news that Nebraska’s Supreme Court ruled the proposed project could go forward, reversing a lower court’s decision that Nebraska’s governor did not have authority to approve its route though the state.

The Obama administration had cited the ongoing court case as one reason they opposed the Keystone bill, but White House officials reiterated that President Obama would still veto the legislation should it reach his desk. Obama has not publicly reached a decision on whether to build the pipeline, but the administration insists the proposal must go through the State Department first.

“The State Department is examining the court's decision as part of its process to evaluate whether the Keystone XL Pipeline project serves the national interest,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said in a statement. “As we have made clear, we are going to let that process play out.” 

While GOP leaders are driving the Keystone effort in Congress, the Senate likely has enough crossover Democratic votes to overcome a filibuster. That means Obama – in what may be the first of many such instances under a newly Republican Senate – will have to personally squash the effort rather than stand by as Democratic leaders deny it a vote instead.