The full U.S. House of Representatives will soon begin debate on a bill to approve the Canada-to-Nebraska Keystone XL oil pipeline, a lawmaker said on Thursday after his panel advanced the measure.
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voted 33 to 24 on Thursday to send the bill, known as the Northern Route Approval Act, to the full chamber. The move was expected as two panels in the Republican-led House had already advanced the bill to speed approval of TransCanada Corp's project, expected to cost at least $5.3 billion.
Committee chairman Bill Shuster, said on Thursday he expected the House to debate the bill soon. "I don't know the timing on it, I believe maybe next week," he told reporters after his panel voted to send the measure to the full House.
Even if passed by the House, the bill faces an uphill battle as it would have to pass the Senate with enough votes to overcome a veto by President Barack Obama.
Backers of the bill had said in March they expected the House to vote on the bill before the May 27 Memorial Day holiday.
Keystone XL would help link Alberta's oil sands with refineries in Texas.
The project has become a symbol of oil sands development for environmentalists. They say the 830,000-barrels-per-day pipeline would raise greenhouse gas emissions and lock the United States into oil dependency for decades into the future.
Supporters of the pipeline say it would provide thousands of construction jobs and boost North American oil security.
The U.S. State Department is reading more than one million public comments on an environmental assessment of the project it issued in March. TransCanada has been trying to get approval of the line for more than four years and rerouted its path to avoid sensitive ecological regions in Nebraska.
The State Department is responsible for deciding whether Keystone will get a so-called presidential permit because it would cross the national border. Obama is expected to weigh in heavily on the final decision expected late his year or early next.
The bill in the House would take that decision from the administration. Lawyers at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service wrote a report last year that said Congress would likely be within its Constitutional authority if it chose to force approval.
Similar legislation was unveiled in March in the Senate, but it is uncertain when it would come up for a vote.
A southern leg of the pipeline from Texas to Oklahoma, which did not need a presidential permit, is more than halfway built.