U.S. Senate takes up Keystone XL bill as showdown with Obama looms

Mon Jan 12, 2015 1:12pm EST
 
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WASHINGTON Jan 12 (Reuters) - The Senate will start debate on Monday on a bill to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline as Republicans, who have made the project their first priority of the year, try to line up enough votes to overcome a potential veto by President Barack Obama.

Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, a co-sponsor of the bill to approve TransCanada Corp's pipeline, has about 63 supporters, including all 54 Republicans. That is four short of the 67 needed to overcome an Obama veto.

The White House has said the president would reject the bill if it reaches his desk.

Hoeven said in a radio address over the weekend that the pipeline to carry Canadian oil to Nebraska en route to refineries along the Gulf Coast would increase U.S. energy security and weaken countries that are on unfriendly terms with Washington.

"The oil and gas we are producing in North America is already changing the global geo-political dynamic, weakening petro-dependent states like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela and strengthening America," he said.

The Senate will vote at 17:30 EST (22:30 GMT) on a measure to allow debate and the offering of amendments. The final vote on the bill is expected to come in the last week of January.

The Keystone bill will be the first test of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise to hold open debates on amendments. Democrats plan to offer several amendments that could prolong the debate, such as one that would prevent oil transported by the pipeline, which will carry 830,000 barrels per day, from being exported.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told NPR over the weekend the pipeline is "one of the biggest farces," and he did not think it would be approved.

The Obama administration has been considering Keystone for six years. After a Nebraska court ruled on Friday that the pipeline's route through the state will stand, supporters of the project say it is time for Obama to work with Congress.

But the president, who has said he would not approve the project if it significantly boosted emissions linked to climate change, has said the State Department must complete its review. He has also raised questions about the project recently, saying it would do nothing to lower gasoline prices for U.S. consumers.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by John Whitesides and Dan Grebler)