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Republicans aim to take Keystone XL decision out of Obama's hands

WASHINGTON -- The American political brawl over TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline is shifting into overdrive as Republicans in the House of Representatives make yet another attempt to take the decision out of U.S. President Barack Obama's hands.

The Northern Route Approval Act was expected to pass the House easily, although it faces a far less certain future in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate. The bill would allow for congressional approval of the pipeline and nix the need for a presidential permit.

The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, saying it "seeks to circumvent long-standing and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest." And one Democratic congressman says he'll challenge the constitutionality of the bill before it even reaches the House floor.

Florida's Alan Grayson says he'll raise a question of the privileges of the House in order to stop consideration of the bill. House rules allow members to raise such questions, which in turn can be used to put the brakes to legislative proceedings.

Grayson says the bill should be rebuffed because it "it affects the dignity and integrity of the proceedings of the House since it is unconstitutional."

Other Democrats in the House are attempting to block the bill by way of a handful of amendments, including one that would require any oil and refined product that is transported via Keystone XL to stay in the United States.

Democrats have argued for years that rather than make the U.S. less dependent on oil from hostile OPEC regimes, Keystone XL in fact will allow Alberta oilsands bitumen to be exported abroad from the Gulf Coast.

Another Democratic amendment would require Calgary-based TransCanada to disclose its campaign contributions for the past five years before construction of Keystone XL proceeds.

Republicans, meantime, have long insisted that Congress has the authority under the U.S. Constitution to regulate international commerce -- and that includes the pipeline, they say, since it aims to move oilsands bitumen from Canada into the U.S.

Environmentalists were universal in heaping scorn on the latest Republican attempt to force approval of the pipeline.

"This bill is nothing more than an effort to run roughshod over protections for landowners, wildlife and drinking water supplies so that TransCanada can get oil to Gulf coast refineries for export to China and other countries," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

North of the border, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has nearly doubled its spending on the promotion of Keystone XL, from $16.5 million from $9 million a year ago.

Its beefed-up efforts included Harper's visit to New York City last week to pitch the pipeline to the Council on Foreign Relations and in roundtables with U.S. business leaders.

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