A Republican lawmaker said he expects a symbolic measure to approve the Keystone XL pipeline will be attached to the Senate's budget plan Friday, and that it will build support for a similar bill likely to be voted on later in the year.
Senator John Hoeven, from North Dakota, told reporters his amendment to allow Congress to approve the pipeline would be selected from hundreds of others for a vote, and that it had at least the 51 backers needed to pass.
TransCanada Corp's more than 800,000-barrel-per-day pipeline would link Canada's oil sands, the world's third richest oil deposit, to refineries in Texas.
Last week, Hoeven and Montana Democrat Max Baucus introduced a bill that would give Congress the power to approve the pipeline, taking it away from the Obama administration. There is a similar bill in the House of Representatives and both could be voted on later in the spring.
Hoeven's bill claims Congress has the authority to approve TransCanada pipeline under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Lawyers at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service wrote an analysis last year that said Congress would likely be within its Constitutional authority if it chose to force approval.
President Barack Obama is expected to make a final decision on the pipeline late this summer, after the State Department finalizes an environmental assessment and mulls whether the project is in the country's interest. But the approval process had been delayed repeatedly and supporters of the pipeline say they can't risk more hold-ups.
Hoeven said the amendment could lend support to the bill.
"I think it will get him (Obama) to approve it and if he doesn't, I think it will help us to get it done congressionally," Hoeven said.
If the measure passes, it would be symbolic because the budget is a plan and will not be voted into law.
Supporters of the $5.3-billion project say it would increase North American energy security and pour capital into the economy. Environmentalists say the pipeline would increase emissions of greenhouse gases.
Pipeline opponents said the amendment was a futile effort.
"The only thing today's nonbinding, symbolic vote underscores on Keystone XL is the fact that this is President Obama's decision alone," said Becky Bond, of CREDO, the activist arm of the CREDO mobile network.
Hoeven's larger bill would likely need 60 votes to pass and faces an uphill battle. Its supporters may try to attach it to must-pass legislation that Obama would find hard to veto.
Hoeven tried to pass legislation that would allow Congress to approve Keystone last year, but it was short of four votes.
The senator said he did not want to predict whether the amendment would get 60 votes.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Richard Cowan; Editing by Bernadette Baum)