Washington: The US Senate has taken a step forward for approval in Congress of a law to facilitate the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the final vote on which will take place this week amid threats from President Barack Obama to veto the legislation.
The bill received 63 votes in favour and 32 against Monday, paving the way to reach a definitive consensus in the Senate, and with it, the entire Congress.
The Republicans, who have 54 senators after their victory in the November elections, needed the support of at least half a dozen Democrats to see the bill through, something they easily managed.
However, it will be a lot more challenging to get a two-thirds majority (67 senators) during the final vote on the law, which would prevent a veto from the president.
The House of Representatives passed the proposal last week with an overwhelming majority of 266 votes in favour and 153 against, as 28 Democrats supported the bill.
The voting in the lower house coincided with the Nebraska Supreme Court`s resolution in favour of the project, rejecting appeals from landowners of the state through which the pipeline would pass.
The resolution further empowers the Republicans to press Obama to agree to the pipeline project, which they believe would create jobs and contribute to the country`s self-sufficiency in the energy sector.
During a debate before the voting, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven spoke strongly in favour of the pipeline, thanks to which, he said, the US would control its own destiny regarding energy supplies.
He also said over the weekend that his party only needed four more votes to prevent a veto, and insisted that it was of critical interest to the nation.
The White House has resisted the Keystone project, arguing that they should wait for the Nebraska court ruling and an environmental report on the issue.
However, the State Department published a report last year in which it felt that construction of Keystone XL was not likely to adversely impact the environment.
Economists and scientists, among them several Nobel Prize winners, have urged Obama to oppose the pipeline project because they consider it to be dangerous for the environment.
The Keystone XL project involves the construction of a gas pipeline by TransCanada to transport crude from Alberta`s oil sands to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.
Environmentalists vehemently oppose the project, arguing it would trigger faster development of the Alberta oil sands, which are the world`s densest and most toxic petroleum reserves.