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Keystone Pipeline may finally get lawmakers' embrace

WASHINGTON -- The Republican-controlled House is on track to easily pass a bill Friday to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and this time, the Senate may follow.

The bill marks the ninth attempt by the House to secure approval of the pipeline, which has been repeatedly delayed by environmental reviews, legal challenges to its route, and politics. Prior votes in the Senate on the issue have failed to get enough votes, but supporters said Thursday they were close to reaching that threshold.

Both the GOP and Senate Democrats hope the votes will give an edge to their party's candidate in the Louisiana Senate race, where Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and Sen. Mary Landrieu are headed for a runoff, and both are touting their energy credentials in an oil and gas-producing state.

While Landrieu pushed for the vote planned in the Senate next week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky credited the Republican sponsor, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, for the progress Thursday.

"We never would have gotten to this point without the tireless leadership of Sen. Hoeven in the Senate, and Congressman Cassidy in the House," said McConnell. "Like the experts, Sen. Hoeven also knows that Keystone would also have almost zero net effect on our climate."

Even if the measure passes the Senate, it may hit a dead end at the White House, which has repeatedly issued veto threats on the bills to expedite or force the President Obama's hand on the issue.

The White House has stopped short of directly threatening a veto of the Keystone legislation. But spokesman Josh Earnest, traveling in Asia with Mr. Obama, said the president takes a "dim view" of legislative efforts to force action on the project.

Environmentalists have framed the issue as a significant test of Mr. Obama's commitment to address climate change. Republicans, and the State Department's review, say the pipeline won't have a significant impact on global warming and thus should be green-lighted.

The 1,179-mile project is proposed to go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Advocates say it would create thousands of jobs and aid energy security, but environmentalists warn of possible spills and say the pipeline would expedite development of some of the dirtiest oil available.

The State Department said in a Jan. 31 report the project would not significantly boost carbon emissions because the oil was likely to find its way to market by other means. It added that transporting it by rail or truck would cause greater environmental problems than if the Keystone XL pipeline were built.

In a news conference in Myanmar Friday with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the president noted that there's a case pending in Nebraska challenging the project.

"If you don't know the route, it's hard to finalize a plan," he said. "As a policy matter, my government believes we should judge this pipeline on whether it accelerates climate change and affects gas prices.

"I have to push back against the idea that Keystone is a jobs bill. Understand what it is: It's about Canada pumping their oil through our, and it will be sold everywhere else.

"What does have an impact on gas prices is the boom of natural gas. Republicans should be engaging in what we can do to produce more energy."

For Mr. Obama, the votes offer a preview of what is to come on energy and environmental issues when Republicans take over the Senate next year, giving them control of Congress. McConnell and other Republican leaders have vowed to rein in Mr. Obama's plans on the climate and pass legislation to greatly expand energy production and expedite energy exports.

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