WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives panel advanced a bill on Tuesday that would give Congress the power, instead of the Obama administration, to approve the Keystone XL pipeline planned to link Canada’s oil sands with Gulf Coast refineries.
The House energy and power subcommittee passed the bill 17 to 9, with the support of 3 conservative Democrats. The bill is expected to move to a vote by the full committee later this week.
The measure would take the decision on the TransCanada Corp project out of the hands of the Obama administration, which rejected a permit last year. The administration is expected to decide on a new application late this summer. TransCanada first filed for a permit more than four years ago.
The 830,000 barrel per day pipeline would carry both Canadian tar sands petroleum and domestic oil from Montana and North Dakota, drawing on a glut of oil in the middle of the country.
“There is no reason for the administration to continue dragging its feet on this jobs and energy project,” said Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Supporters of the line say it will bolster North American energy security and create thousands of construction jobs. Opponents say enabling supply from the oil sands for 50 years will lead to more greenhouse gas emissions and stymie efforts to make cars run on cleaner technologies.
Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, opposed the bill saying it “effectively short circuits the environmental review process” and “locks the public out of the decision making process.”
President Barack Obama is expected to be the final arbiter on the Keystone decision, but first the State Department must finalize an environmental assessment after a public comment period scheduled to end on April 22.
Then it will determine whether the TransCanada project is in the national interest, a decision expected to take 90 days and to be made with input from several federal bureaus including the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The bill, known as H.R. 3, is expected to brought to the floor of the full House in late May and easily pass in the Republican-led chamber. The fate of a similar bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate is uncertain.
Last month 62 senators, including 17 Democrats, passed a symbolic measure in the budget that would hand the decision to Congress. It is uncertain whether the Senate will take up its version of the bill or whether it would have enough votes to survive a likely veto by President Barack Obama.
Lawyers at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service said in an analysis in late 2012 that Congress would be likely be within its constitutional authority if it chose to force approval of the pipeline.