A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on Thursday would give Congress the power to approve TransCanada Corp's controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would link Canada's oil sands to refineries and ports in Texas.
The measure, unveiled by John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, and Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, would take approval of the more than 800,000 barrels per day pipeline project out of the hands of the Obama administration.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters after the bill was introduced that the approval process for pipelines crossing international borders belongs to the State Department.
The department this month issued an environmental assessment of the line, which said the project would not cause environmental harm. The Obama administration is expected to make a final decision on the project, which has been pending for more than four years, by August or later.
"The State Department's favorable finding in its most recent report makes clear both the good environmental stewardship of the project and the need to begin construction without further delay," Hoeven said in a release.
The pipeline has become a symbol to environmentalists who say it would open up access to the oil sands which are carbon-intensive to produce.
Backers say the pipeline would bolster North American energy security and usher in thousands of new jobs. The State Department report said it would create about 35 to 50 permanent jobs, and support about 42,100 temporary jobs throughout the country, not all of them directly.
Keystone XL would carry crude from Alberta's oil sands and from the central United States, helping to relieve a glut building up as a result of the drilling boom in North Dakota and Montana. The southern leg of the line, which does not need a presidential permit handled by the State Department, is more than halfway built.
The bill has 14 co-sponsors including seven Democrats, but is likely to face a tough battle.
Congress has tried several times to push President Barack Obama to approve Keystone. In late 2011 Republicans inserted language in a payroll tax cut bill giving Obama a 60-day deadline to make a decision.
Obama ruled in early 2012 the administration needed more time to evaluate a revised route through Nebraska submitted by TransCanada to avoid sensitive ecological areas.
Keystone backers in Congress pushed to override Obama's call and approve the line themselves, but a vote in the Senate fell four votes short of passage.