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Obama veto looms as U.S. House votes for Keystone XL pipeline

As a pro-Keystone XL effort gathered bipartisan steam in Congress, President Barack Obama suggested that the controversial pipeline may be good for Canada but doesn’t offer much to Americans.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed – by a 252-161 vote – a pro-Keystone XL bill intended to force Obama to approve the Canadian oil export project.

It was the ninth time the House of Representatives has passed a pro-Keystone XL measure. The Senate is expected to take up a similar bill next week.

“This will create other economic activity. This will ripple out through the economy,” said Republican Representative Bill Cassidy, who introduced the legislation in the House.

Cassidy is locked in a Louisiana run-off race scheduled for Dec. 6 against Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat who is the key backer of a Senate bill on the pipeline.

Both will claim credit for pushing the project forward if the legislation winds up on the President’s desk, forcing the showdown.

“It is time for America to become energy independent and that is impossible without the Keystone pipeline and other pipelines like it,” Landrieu said.

Obama, who has repeatedly delayed deciding about Keystone XL, has indicated that he will veto any effort by Congress to take control of the approval process.

Keystone XL just gets Canadian oil to world markets, it doesn’t help the U.S. consumer, the President said in Myanmar on Friday.

“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices,” Obama said, evidently frustrated with questions about the Canadian-backed project while he was standing alongside Myanmarese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

A showdown looms over Keystone XL with more drama and delays for the project to create an export outlet for Canada’s carbon-heavy oil sands crude. The pipeline has become the prime target for a broad coalition of environmental groups seeking to hold Obama to his sweeping but vague pledges to battle climate change by cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

“The Keystone XL is a stone dead loser – for our country, our people and our future. Why would anybody support it?” said Liz Heyd, a spokeswoman for the National Resources Defence Council, one of the groups demanding that Obama reject it to make good on his vow to battle greenhouse gas emissions.

It is a “plan to pipe some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through the breadbasket of America to be refined on the Gulf Coast to fuels that can mostly be shipped overseas,” she added.

Republicans, emboldened by big gains in last week’s midterm elections, have chosen to make Keystone XL into the first battle of wills with a lame-duck president.

And Obama, so far, is not backing down.

Obama “has taken a dim view of these kinds of legislative proposals in the past,” Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said on Thursday in Naypyidaw, capital of Myanmar, signalling that the President would veto any legislation attempting to strip him of authority to make the decision about the transborder project.

“The President’s senior advisers at the White House have recommended that he veto legislation like that,” Earnest added, referring to past congressional manoeuvring to wrest the decision out of the President’s hands. “That has continued to be our position.”

Obama said Keystone XL must prove itself to be in the U.S. national interest. He said he would “judge this pipeline based on whether or not it accelerates climate change or whether it helps the American people with their energy costs and their gas prices,” adding: “I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is somehow lowering gas prices.”

Big oil and big business hailed the reinvigorated congressional effort to force Obama to approve the project.

“Enhancing our nation’s energy security through the construction of a critical infrastructure project should be a no-brainer,” said American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard, echoing the line used by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has lobbied tirelessly on behalf of the TransCanada Corp. project that would give Alberta’s vast but landlocked oil sands a route to world markets.

TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said, “There continues to be strong bipartisan support for Keystone XL and we are encouraged by any effort to move this process forward.”

The project is also bogged down in a legal challenge in Nebraska, where the state’s Supreme Court decision on the legality of TransCanada’s right-of-way is not expected until early next year.

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