The US House of Representatives has approved a Republican measure authorising construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, bucking President Barack Obama who said he intends to veto the controversial initiative.
The House voted 266 to 153 on Friday to pass the bill that circumvents the Obama administration, which over the past six years has yet to issue a decision on whether to greenlight the $7bn mega-project.
The project, originally proposed in 2008 by builder TransCanada to allow crude oil from Alberta to be transported south to refineries on the US Gulf Coast, has emerged as a major Republican economic priority.
Republicans won control of both chambers of Congress in November’s elections, and the Senate will begin debating and voting on the Keystone legislation next week.
President Obama has declined to sign off on the project, expressing environmental concerns, and the White House re-stated on Friday he would veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
Lawsuite tossed out
Hours before the House vote, Nebraska’s highest court tossed out a lawsuit challenging the pipeline’s route, an obstacle the White House said it needed removed to make a decision on the project.
The decision on Friday by Nebraska’s Supreme Court reversed a 2012 ruling that determined that the governor had violated the state’s constitution by bypassing regulators and approving the route of the Canada-to-US pipeline.
“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 law which allows major oil carriers to bypass regulatory procedures.
“Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the President and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on US national interests,” deputy White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, adding that the State Department was examining the ruling.
Republicans see Keystone as a top priority and have been pushing to authorise construction of the project without need for Obama’s approval.
With Republilcans controlling both houses, the passage of Keystone legislation is expected. But overcoming a presidential veto will require a two-thirds majority.
In the Senate, at least six Democrats support Keystone’s construction, joining all 54 Republicans, but 67 Senate votes are needed to override a veto.
Republicans applauded the court ruling, seeing it as a move that should ease the logjam on the project.