The Keystone XL pipeline is closer than it’s ever been to approval after the Senate overcame a Democrat-led filibuster Thursday and was headed for a final passage vote later in the day — setting up an eventual showdown with President Obama, who has promised a veto.
Nine Democrats bucked Mr. Obama’s threat and voted with 53 Republicans to approve the pipeline, which has taken on a political significance far beyond the 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil that it is projected to carry if it ever gets built.
It marks the first major legislation to clear the Senate since the GOP took control earlier this month, and serves as a key test of how willing Democrats will be to challenge their lame-duck party leader, Mr. Obama.
“This took a bipartisan effort to get done. That’s what the people want,” said Sen. John Hoeven, the North Dakota Republican who sponsored the legislation.
The bill will still have to be married with a House version, which cleared that chamber earlier this year on a similar bipartisan vote — though in neither case was there enough support to overcome an expected veto.
The project is popular with voters and even has won support from some labor unions, who say it will produce jobs. But environmental groups have declared the project a key test of the U.S. commitment to combatting climate change, and have pressured Mr. Obama to fight the pipeline.
The 1,1790-mile pipeline would carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City in Nebraska, where other pipelines would farm it out for refinement.
Mr. Obama says he would veto the bill because he doesn’t want to change current law, which gives his administration the power to make a decision. He said the State Department, which has been considering the project for five years, should not be rushed.
The president had also said he wanted to wait until a Nebraska court ruled on a local challenge to the path of the pipeline, but that state’s Supreme Court threw the case out several weeks ago arguing the challengers didn’t have standing, so that objection fell.
Opponents of the pipeline say that while it will create thousands of short-term jobs building the pipeline, it will only produce a few dozen long-term jobs once it’s up and running. And they say the type of oil that would flow through it is considered among the dirtiest for carbon emissions.
They also said the oil will go to the Gulf of Mexico to be refined, where it’s likely to be shipped to other countries and won’t affect the price of gas at pumps in the U.S.
Supporters counter that the oil will be drilled in Canada no matter what, and if the U.S. doesn’t build the pipeline it will be shipped to China or elsewhere, meaning the carbon emissions will happen no matter what. They argue having more oil in North American is good for price stability and helps free the U.S. from dependence on Middle East fuels.
The nine Democrats who sides with Republican on the pipeline vote were: Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Mr. Hoeven and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who serves as chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, said if Mr. Obama does eventually veto the bill they’ll try to find ways to attach it to other energy legislation the president wants, hoping to get him to sign it through a compromise.