Keystone XL takes two steps closer to Obama's desk

President Obama renewed his pledge to block the controversial Keystone pipeline as the Nebraska high court dismissed landowners objections to the proposed route and the US House approved the project.

Nati Harnik/AP
A sign reads "Stop the Transcanada Pipeline" in a field near Bradshaw, Neb., March 11, 2013. Nebraska's highest court tossed a lawsuit Friday, challenging the proposed route for the oil pipeline, saying the landowners who sued didn't have legal standing to do so. The closely watched decision could remove a major roadblock for the $7 billion cross-continental project that Republicans have vowed to make a key part of their 2015 agenda in Congress.

Support for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline surged on Friday, both in the US House and Nebraska's high court. But that hasn't changed the White House position that the president would veto a bill to approve the pipeline if it came to his desk.

On Friday, Nebraska's high court ruled that Nebraska landowners cannot challenge the governor's right to set the route of the pipeline through the state. Then the US House of Representatives approved the pipeline 226 to 153, with 28 Democrats voting in favor.

President Obama is “out of excuses” for blocking the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, said House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio on Friday shortly before the vote.

The GOP-controlled Senate plans to bring an identical bill to the floor next week, despite the president’s veto threat, which the White House reiterated on Friday. The Senate bill has six Democratic cosponsors – enough to ward off a filibuster and get a bill to the president’s desk, but not enough to overcome a presidential veto.

Earlier this week, the White House cited the pending Nebraska ruling as one reason for its plans to veto a Keystone bill. But other objections still stand – including the assertion that Congress is circumventing the president’s authority to issue permits for a pipeline that crosses an international border.

Environmentalists and other Democrats on the Hill still vigorously oppose the controversial pipeline – which the majority of Americans support.

“This ruling has no impact on the fact that the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline fails President Obama’s climate test, threatens our water, and is a bad deal for the American people. It’s unfortunate that congressional Republicans are wasting time with continued attempts to go around the president despite his pledge to veto this harmful bill,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters, in a statement.

With the Nebraska court ruling out of the way, the State Department can now resume its review of the pipeline. It had halted its nearly complete review in April because three Nebraska landowners challenged a 2012 state law that allowed the governor to set the route through Nebraska, rather than the Nebraska Public Service Commission that regulates pipelines and utilities.

But the state’s high court ruled on Friday that the landowners did not have legal standing to bring the case. As a result, Gov. Dave Heineman is now empowered to allow Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. to force landowners in eastern Nebraska to sell their property for the pipeline. The ruling adds pressure on the State Department to speedily finish its review.

Mr. Sittenfeld and other environmentalists urged the president to quickly reject the pipeline, but Republicans in Congress cite an earlier State Department report that found no major environmental problems. Earlier this week, the lead Democratic cosponsor of the Senate bill, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he was “very disappointed” with the president’s promised veto.

“You would have thought that at least the White House and the president would say, 'Let's go through this process and let that play out and at the end of the day, I'll tell you why or why I do not support it,’ " said Senator Manchin on “Fox and Friends.”

He pointed out that other Democrats are planning amendments that might help increase Democratic support for the bill. The amendments include prohibiting the export of oil from the pipeline and requiring that American-made steel be used in its construction. Whether those and other amendments will be adopted will be determined over the coming days.

In the end, it is the president who will make the decision, given that Congress, at the moment, lacks the votes for an override.

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