Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Tuesday night to approve a bill that would force U.S. President Barack Obama to make a decision on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline by Nov. 1.
The U.S. State Department is reviewing the $7-billion US pipeline proposal, with a preliminary environmental assessment expected by mid-August.
The pipeline would transport Alberta oilsands crude through the American heartland to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The State Department's final decision on the project is expected by the end of the year.
For that reason, the White House has been critical of the House bill, saying it's unnecessary given State Department officials will decide on the fate of the pipeline within weeks of the Nov. 1 deadline imposed by the legislation.
The bill would also intrude upon the Obama administration's review of the pipeline, the White House said in a statement.
The bill "conflicts with long-standing executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and the secretary of state, and could prevent the thorough consideration of complex issues which could have serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications," the statement read.
Nonetheless, the bill passed the House since Republican legislators are almost uniformly in favour of embracing Alberta's oilsands amid soaring prices at the pumps and a desire to end American dependence on Middle East oil.
It faces a far more uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, which is still controlled by Democrats, some of them vehemently opposed to the pipeline.
Debate on the bill began Tuesday afternoon.
"What exactly is at stake, what hinges upon the approval or disapproval of this monumental infrastructure project? American job creation, overdue economic growth and increased national energy security," said Daniel Webster, a Republican congressman.
His Democratic colleague, Alcee Hastings of Florida, disagreed.
"It's clear that my friends in the majority are more interested with keeping big oil companies happy than implementing a workable energy policy for the future," she said.
"Instead of crafting policies to ensure that the growing sustainable energy industry is filled with American workers, the majority wants to enrich Canadian oil companies at a cost of America's economy and environment."
Keystone delays worry Canadian energy industry
North of the border, the delay in approving the pipeline has caused consternation about the future prospects for Canadian energy in the U.S.
Last week, Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert reiterated his view that Canada must find more markets for its crude oil if it hopes to become a global energy superpower.
He called for a more streamlined regulatory process that would make it less likely that delays would hamper major projects like Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast and TransCanada's Keystone pipeline.
"Currently we really only have one customer and that's south, and you're not going to be a global energy superpower with one customer," he said.
Oil industry lobbyists in the U.S. also have been pressing for quick approval of the pipeline.
The American Petroleum Institute has cited a recent study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute that says delays in approving the project have cost much-needed jobs in the U.S., where 14 million Americans are unemployed amid a lingering recession.
Some estimates suggest the Keystone pipeline could create 118,000 jobs and generate $585 million US in state and local taxes.