The House of Representatives approved construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday. The vote, along with a similar Senate proposal scheduled for a vote Tuesday, foreshadows the first post-election legislative showdown between the White House and Congress.
The Republican-controlled House passed the bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), by a 252-161 vote. Cassidy is locked in a bitter December runoff election in Louisiana for the seat of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Cassidy called for a vote on his bill after Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called on the upper chamber to bring a similar bill to a vote. The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on Landrieu’s bill.
Construction of the pipeline would allow for the transport of oil and tar sands from Canada to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.
In the days since his party suffered heavy losses in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama has doubled down on his pledge to use his executive powers to act, saying he interpreted the results as voters wanting Washington to emerge from gridlock rather than sending a negative message to Democrats.
The battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has been mired in partisan politics for several years and is shaping up to be a bellwether on the clash over executive authority.
Landrieu and Democrats from energy-producing states, along with Republicans, support the pipeline, while most Democratic lawmakers oppose it. But the vote carries the weight of the Louisiana runoff election. Passing the Landrieu bill would help boost her campaign argument that, even as her state trends further right, it benefits from her clout in Washington as the top Democrat on the Senate energy panel. And, while control of the Senate is already sure to go to Republicans, neither party wants to lose a seat.
The White House has indicated that it will not budge from its long-standing position that the president makes the final decision on the pipeline that is to carry oil from Canada to Mexico, as the executive branch has done for decades on projects that cross U.S. borders and require so-called presidential permits.
The administration has put a review of the pipeline on hold while it awaits the results of a lawsuit in Nebraska over the pipeline’s route. Obama has said he will consider granting the permit only after those steps are completed. “I’ve been clear in the past … and my position hasn’t changed, that this is a process that is supposed to be followed,” he said at a news conference Friday in Myanmar, asking Congress not to “short-circuit” the protracted review process.
Earlier in the week, White House spokesman Josh Earnest went further: “In evaluating those earlier proposals, we have indicated that the president’s senior advisers at the White House would recommend that he veto legislation like that.”
Obama has said he will sign legislation that allows for the building of the pipeline only if governmental studies show its construction will not lead to enhanced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Friday’s vote came in the same week the United States and China announced an ambitious agreement on cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.