US & Canada

US House passes controversial Keystone pipeline bill

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio strides from the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, 9 January 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption The bill is the first the House has passed since Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress

The US House has passed a bill approving the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill soon, which President Barack Obama has said he will veto.

Earlier in the day, a court in Nebraska dismissed a case that would have stalled construction of the pipeline.

The project has been one of the most contentious issues between Mr Obama and Republicans who now lead Congress.

It is 1,179-mile (1,897km) extension of an existing pipeline that would bring additional oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refining facilities near the Gulf of Mexico.

The bill was the first piece of major legislation to be introduced by the newly Republican-controlled Congress. It passed the House by a vote of 266-153, with 28 Democrats supporting the measure.

"We shouldn't be debating it, we should be building it," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Obama has vowed to veto the bill, saying that it bypasses longstanding review procedures

The Senate will consider a similar bill on Monday, which it will likely pass in the coming weeks.

The $5.4bn (£3.6bn) project was first introduced in 2008.

The bill is controversial because the tar sand oil that the pipeline will transport is said to be more polluting than other types of oil.

But an official environmental review released last year raised no major environmental objections to the pipeline's construction.

Many Republicans and some trade unions support the bill because they say it will generate jobs.

Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the state department has to grant a permit for its construction.

But in voting today, Congressional Republicans have set the stage to bypass this review process and allow construction to begin immediately.

Earlier in the week, the Obama administration said it opposes the bill because it "prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on US national interests," and because of "uncertainty due to ongoing litigation in Nebraska."

On Friday morning, the Supreme Court in Nebraska dismissed the lawsuit on which Mr Obama's veto threat was party based.

The lawsuit was considered a major obstacle to the pipeline's construction.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption If built, the pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels of oil per day

"Today's ruling provides the perfect opportunity for the president to change his unproductive posture on this jobs project and reverse his veto threat," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said following the court's decision.

"The president now has every reason to sign it."

Despite passing, the bill failed to garner the two-thirds majority in the House that it would need in the future to override a presidential veto.

The Senate would likely be unable to override a veto as well.

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