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House Votes to Approve Keystone Pipeline

House Votes to Approve Keystone Pipeline

By Adam O'Neal - November 14, 2014

The House voted Friday afternoon to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, with 31 Democrats joining all but one Republican to easily pass the bill. (Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan voted "present.") This marks the ninth time that the GOP-controlled House has approved legislation clearing the way for the stalled project. 

Next week, Senate Democrats will allow a vote on the same bill for the first time. Although the upper chamber will almost certainly back the legislation with a bipartisan majority, it just as likely won’t become law. 

White House spokesman Josh Earnest indicated earlier this week that President Obama would veto legislation that bypasses the White House to approve the pipeline. Congress could attempt to override the veto, but it’s unlikely that enough votes exist to do so. 

(Because of the pipeline project’s trans-national nature, the State Department maintains jurisdiction over approval of it. However, that process could be superseded by a federal law that declares the project approved.) 

The Obama administration has delayed making a decision multiple times on an essential segment of the conduit that would transport tar-sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The reasons cited include ongoing litigation and the need for more information about the project’s environmental impact. Critics say the administration is simply procrastinating in an attempt to please environmentalists, a key part of the Democratic base.  

Partisan politics almost entirely drove the latest Keystone vote. 

Sen. Mary Landrieu -- who trails her Republican challenger in polls ahead of next month’s runoff election -- called for a vote in the Senate earlier this week. The move is meant to help the imperiled lawmaker demonstrate her influence on the Hill over energy policy. 

“This has been a project that has lingered far too long,” Landrieu said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “It is clearly supported by 60 or more members of this body.” 

Rep. Bill Cassidy, Landrieu’s runoff opponent, sponsored the House legislation. Republicans decided to vote on the bill again following Landrieu’s statement. 

Cassidy, who delivered a speech on the House floor Thursday focusing on the pipeline’s economic benefits, also noted that the lower chamber had already approved the pipeline eight times. “We are going to make it as easy as possible for the Senate to finally get a bill to the president’s desk.” 

Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat and prominent House environmentalist, described the vote as disgraceful. 

“This is nothing but bare-naked politics and the use of the House of Representatives to promote someone’s candidacy to the United States Senate, which I think is really a disgrace to this institution,” DeFazio said at the conclusion of a speech. 

The pipeline system would move about 800,000 barrels of heavy tar-sands oil each day from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska and then Texas. By comparison, the United States consumes about 19 million barrels of petroleum each day. 

Opposition and support for the project has become a rallying cry for environmentalists on one side and business interests on the other -- generating outsized interest in the pipeline, primarily because of its symbolic value.

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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