WASHINGTON – The Senate passed legislation Thursday approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up a looming veto showdown with the White House.
The legislation passed on a 62-36 vote, after lawmakers spent weeks considering amendments. The House passed a similar bill earlier this month, though there are slight differences that have to be ironed out before the bill can go to President Obama's desk.
The vote nevertheless marked the first time the Senate has voted to approve the controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline. Nine Democrats joined with 53 Republicans to back the measure.
“Constructing Keystone would pump billions into our economy,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said before the vote. “It would support thousands of good American jobs and as the president’s own State Department has indicated, it would do this with minimal environmental impact.”
Russ Girling, CEO of the company behind the project TransCanada, said in a statement Thursday afternoon the firm was "encouraged" by the "strong bipartisan" showing in the Senate.
Still, Republicans remain several votes shy of the 67 needed in the 100-member chamber to override a presidential veto.
And asked Thursday about the vote, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that Obama would veto.
It remains unclear whether majority Republicans could round up additional support to override. Since they took over the Senate in January, Republicans have made approving the Keystone pipeline their top priority on the heels of big wins in the November elections.
The Senate vote capped weeks of debate that was often messy and on one occasion had the Senate in session into the early morning. Dozens of additions to the bill were considered, but only a handful, such as getting the Senate on the record that climate change is not a hoax, made it into the measure.
"The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. But the Keystone jobs debate has been important for the Senate and for our country," McConnell said. "The Keystone infrastructure project has been studied endlessly, from almost every possible angle, and the same general conclusion keeps becoming clear: Build it."
The bill authorizes construction of the 1,179-mile pipeline, which would carry oil primarily from Canada's tar sands to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.
First proposed in 2008, the $8 billion project has been beset by delays in Nebraska over its route and at the White House, where the president has resisted prior efforts by Congress to force him to make a decision. In 2012, Obama rejected the project after Congress attached a measure to a payroll tax cut extension that gave him a deadline to make a decision. The pipeline's developer, TransCanada Corp., then reapplied.
Environmental groups have called on Obama to reject the project outright, saying it would make it easier to tap a dirty source of energy that would exacerbate global warming. The State Department's analysis, assuming higher oil prices, found that shipping it by pipelines to rail or tankers would be worse for the planet.
Supporters say the pipeline is a critical piece of infrastructure that will create thousands of jobs during construction and boost energy security by importing oil from a friendly neighbor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.