Congress Moving Forward With Keystone Bill Despite Veto Threat From White House

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By Ari Natter

Jan. 6 — Republicans are moving forward with plans to consider legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, even as a White House spokesman said President Barack Obama would veto the bill.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is the author of the bill (S. 1), which would deem the $8 billion Canada-to-Texas pipeline approved despite an ongoing administration review of the project. Hoeven told reporters on Jan. 6 that he has 63 supporters for the bill and is seeking four more to secure a veto-proof majority.

If Republicans are unable to secure the 67 votes needed to override a veto—as many analysts believe—Hoeven said the bill may be attached to other energy legislation or an appropriations measure that the president would be less inclined to veto.

“This may be a two-step process,” Hoeven said during a news conference with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the bill's lead Democratic co-sponsor.

The House also is proceeding with plans for a vote Jan. 9 on identical legislation, which would use congressional authority to approve the project through the Constitution's commerce clause.

The House Rules Committee is expected to approve a closed rule—meaning members wouldn't be allowed to offer amendments on the floor—during a meeting scheduled for Jan. 7, a Republican committee aide told Bloomberg BNA.

Obama, during his year-end news conference in December, had taken an increasingly negative tone on the project, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would veto the bill because it would circumvent State Department review of the project.

White House Process ‘Undermined.’

“The concern that we have right now is principally on the idea that this piece of legislation would undermine what has traditionally been, and is, a well-established administrative process to determine whether or not this project is in the national interest,” Earnest said.

The State Department is reviewing the project, first proposed by TransCanada Corp. in 2008, because it crosses an international boundary. The pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of crude produced from oil sands in Alberta to an existing segment of pipeline in Steele City, Neb.

The Senate is expected to spend “several weeks” considering the bill, as it becomes a vehicle for several energy amendments as part of an open process under new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Hoeven said.

Natural Gas Export Amendment

In addition to Democratic amendments that would require investment in clean energy and place restrictions on the export of petroleum products made with crude from the Keystone pipeline, Hoeven said the bill probably would serve as a vehicle for a Republican-backed amendment to expedite natural gas exports.

“I think there's a good chance we offer some compromise version of the [liquefied natural gas] export amendment,” Hoeven told reporters, adding he believes such an amendment would reach the 60-vote threshold needed to be adopted.

The bill also may serve as a vehicle for amendments to undermine a number of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, such as proposed carbon emissions limits for power plants and revisions to the national ozone standard, though Hoeven said he and others are working with their caucus to limit amendments that could strip away Democrats' support.

Hearing Cancelled

The Senate is expected to proceed to the bill the week of Jan. 12, even though a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the legislation that was scheduled for Jan. 7 was cancelled, and plans for a Jan. 8 markup of the bill are in flux, Robert Dillon, a committee spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA.

The change in schedule came after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) objected on the Senate floor to the committee holding a hearing before it formally ratified the organizational charter, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee's chairman, told Bloomberg BNA.

“We thought we had an agreement” to proceed, Murkowski said. “We were prepared to have a hearing with majority and minority witnesses.”

With assistance from Anthony Adragna and Cheryl Bolen in Washington

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com