(Adds panel will consider bill on Thursday, background)
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, Jan 2 (Reuters) - The head of the Senate energy committee plans to introduce a bill next week to force approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, though the full chamber faces a battle in obtaining needed votes to overcome any veto by President Barack Obama.
Keystone supporters say they picked up votes for TransCanada Corp’s $8 billion project in November’s midterm elections, including Republicans Shelley Moore Capito, from West Virginia, and Joni Ernst, from Iowa.
That means this year’s bill will likely have a few more than the 60 votes needed to pass, but lack the 67 votes needed to overcome any presidential veto.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican and the new head of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will introduce the bill on Thursday after a hearing the day before on TransCanada Corp’s $8 billion project, her spokesman said on Friday.
“We are trying to allow it to go through the open committee process and bring it to the Senate floor and let them vote on it,” spokesman Robert Dillon said.
The pipeline, which has been pending for more than six years, has galvanized environmentalists who say mining the oil sands increases emissions linked to climate change. Labor and oil interests say the project will increase North American energy security and offer thousands of construction jobs.
A similar bill died in November, falling one vote short of the necessary 60 votes for the project that would bring some 800,000 barrels per day of Canada’s oil sands petroleum to Nebraska en route to Gulf Coast refineries.
That measure was sponsored by Senators Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, who lost in a runoff vote last month, and John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican.
At the Senate energy panel hearing on Wednesday, the lawmakers will hear testimony from Keystone supporters from labor and industry and from a critic at the Center for American Progress think tank.
The path of the pipeline is being held up by a legal decision in Nebraska, where the state’s top court is expected to rule early this year.
Meanwhile, the State Department is deciding whether the project is in the country’s interest. Obama has opposed Keystone bills, saying his administration’s approval process is not completed. He has said he will not approve the pipeline if it would substantially raise emissions linked to climate change. (Editing by Matthew Lewis and Meredith Mazzilli)