WASHINGTON — House Republicans kept a key plank of their energy policy alive, defying a White House veto threat and passing legislation mandating the building of a controversial oil pipeline.
The text calling for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the US Gulf Coast was inserted into a bill extending transportation funding, which passed 293-127 in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
About 70 Democrats voted for the measure in the House but it is considered unlikely that the bill -- in its current form with the Keystone XL provision -- would pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Congress had already approved a 90-day funding extension last month, after the House refused to pass the Senate's two-year, $109 billion transportation bill that had bipartisan support.
The new House extension allows the party caucuses to gather together to hash out a compromise.
While House Speaker John Boehner had worked in vain to get the House to pass a massive, five-year transportation bill, he was hailing the latest extension as a victory.
"The House is on record again in support of the Keystone XL energy pipeline -- a project President Obama blocked, personally lobbied against, then tried to take credit for, and now says he'll veto," Boehner said in a statement.
Republicans have savaged Obama for suspending the project, under pressure from environmental groups, in January when he said the pipeline's planned route was through environmentally sensitive areas.
Boehner said the $7 billion project -- part of an "all of the above" energy strategy that exploits traditional sources like oil and natural gas as well as newer technologies like wind, solar and biofuels -- would "create tens of thousands of new American jobs."
"If he continues to stand in the way, the Canadian government will bypass the United States and ship their energy -- and the jobs that come with it -- to countries like China," Boehner added.
Environmentalists fear an accident along the 1,700-mile (2,700-kilometer) pipeline would spell disaster for aquifers in central US Great Plains states. They also oppose the project because exploiting the oil sands requires energy that generate a large volume of greenhouse gases.
CNN, citing a spokesman for Nebraska's environmental authority, reported that the company behind the controversial pipeline, TransCanada, has submitted a proposal for a new route that bypasses an environmentally sensitive aquifer.
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