WASHINGTON, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Republican senators this week made good on a campaign promise and kicked off the new Congress with a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, saying if President Barack Obama vetoes it, they have a plan to pass the measure later in the year.
Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, introduced a bill on Tuesday to approve TransCanada Corp’s project that would transport more than 800,000 barrels per day of mostly Canadian heavy oil to Nebraska en route to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers predicted that 63 senators would back the pipeline, enough for the bill to pass but short of the 67 votes that would be needed to overcome a likely veto from Obama.
“We may not have enough to overcome a veto, so it may be a two-step process,” Hoeven told Reuters.
Obama, who has been considering the pipeline for six years, has opposed previous bills to force the project through, saying the State Department needs to complete its regulatory process. If he rejects this bill, Keystone backers will attempt to attach the measure to wider legislation Obama could find harder to veto, perhaps legislation on energy efficiency, exporting natural gas, or on appropriations.
Keystone has divided Democrats between environmentalists, who say oil sands mining will raise emissions linked to climate change, and union supporters who say it will add thousands of construction jobs and boost energy security.
The project will be the first test for new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after Republicans won control of the Senate in November’s elections.
He has promised to open the amendment process on legislation, allowing the full Senate to weigh in on proposed additions to bills. For Keystone, that process will start on Thursday in the energy committee, under the new chairwoman, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.
The Senate will debate the bill for several weeks before voting to pass it, Hoeven said.
Democrats are weighing a variety of amendments to add to the bill, including requirements to use only U.S. steel and to prevent the oil transported on the pipeline from ever being exported.
Hoeven said he does not expect the measure on preventing exports to pass as a similar one failed in the past. But he said any amendment that does pass with 60 votes will strengthen the push by both parties for the pipeline. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Richard Cowan; Editing by Marguerita Choy)