The House voted 270-152 to send the bill to the president, endorsing changes made by the Senate that stated climate change was real and not a hoax, and oilsands should no longer be exempt from a tax used to cleanup oil spills. Only one Republican voted against the measure.
But neither chamber has enough support to overcome a veto, and supporters were already strategizing on how to secure the pipeline's approval using other legislative means.
"The evidence is in. The case ought to be closed," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
For Republicans, the bill's passage capped weeks of debate on a top priority after they took control of Congress last month. Hours before the vote, they prodded Democrats who did not take their side.
Democrats, meanwhile, called the effort a waste of time but said the provisions on global warming and oils spills marked progress for Republicans on those issues.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said the bill was another example of Republicans prioritizing legislation to demonstrate a message, regardless of its chances of becoming law. The vote Wednesday marked the 11th attempt by Republicans to advance the pipeline.
"The last few years have been like a hamster on a wheel — spinning and spinning and not getting anywhere," said Hastings, who at one point held up a toy that looked like the rodent.
First proposed in 2008, the pipeline has come to symbolize the differences between the parties on energy and environmental matters, and it is likely to be the first of many skirmishes with the White House.
Republicans and the oil industry have argued the $8 billion infrastructure project is about jobs and boosting energy security, by importing oil from a friendly neighbour and shipping it to domestic refineries subject to stringent environmental regulations. Democrats, and their environmental allies, have characterized it as a gift to the oil industry that would worsen global warming and subject parts of the country to the risks of an oil spill.
While the State Department's January 2014 analysis said Canada's oilsands would be developed regardless of whether the pipeline was approved — meaning the pipeline itself would not increase greenhouse gas emissions — the Environmental Protection Agency has said that analysis needs to be revisited because of lower oil prices.
Meanwhile, Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), the pipeline developer, has written to the U.S. State Department to dispute the EPA's latest criticism.
The company takes issue with the EPA report, which said the recent drop in oil prices will increase Keystone's contribution to greenhouse gases and climate change.
Among other things, TransCanada says the EPA's conclusions aren't supported by the State Department's analysis or by actual market prices and production rates since the company first applied for approval in 2008.
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