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Senate Passes Keystone XL Authorization Bill: What's Next?

The new Republican-controlled Senate achieved its first major legislative victory on Thursday (Jan. 29) by passing S.1 to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Five more votes are needed to override a potential presidential veto.
January 31, 2015, 1pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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"After weeks of good, solid debate," in the words of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (as heard on The Hill video), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Bill 1 (S.1)—the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act. Nine Democrats voted in support, as well as all Republicans. There were two absences.

The bill authorizes construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which "would move as many as 830,000 barrels of oil a day, mostly from Canada’s oil sands to Steele City, Neb., where it would connect with existing pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries," writes energy policy reporter Amy Harder of The Wall Street Journal. "If completed, the pipeline system would span 1,700 miles and cross six U.S. states."

Before the bill can reach the president's desk, the bill may need to be reconciled with the House bill passed on January 9, because "the Senate added several amendments to the legislation during three weeks of work, the byproduct of (Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell’s promise to give individual members more input on the floor... House Republicans have not decided whether to pass the Senate bill as is or seek a conference committee, where a final version would be negotiated between the chambers," writes Laura Barron-Lopez for The Hill.

Veto is not a certainty

"The earliest the Keystone bill could reach Obama would be next week — just as the State Department receives final comments on the proposal to build the pipeline," writes Barron-Lopez. "Obama has repeatedly warned Congress not to short-circuit the federal review of the pipeline and seems poised to issue the third veto of his presidency when the legislation hits his desk."

Agencies are required to send their recommendations about the pipeline to the State Department on Feb. 2, bringing the six-year long review of the Canada-to-Texas project one step closer to completion.

It’s possible that the Keystone bill and Secretary of State John Kerry’s recommendation on whether the project is in the national interest could reach Obama simultaneously, potentially helping the president avoid a veto that would anger some centrist Democrats and labor unions.

Should the president decide to veto S.1, "the bill still lacks the support in both the Senate and the House to override a presidential veto," writes Elana Schor in Politico.

Overriding Obama would require four more Democratic votes in the Senate and dozens more in the House, where 28 Democrats joined the GOP in approving the pipeline bill earlier this month.

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Published on Thursday, January 29, 2015 in The Hill
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