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Senators introduce bill to approve Keystone oil pipeline construction, but need more votes

WASHINGTON - Senate supporters of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline conceded Thursday they lack the 60 votes necessary to pass legislation authorizing immediate construction of the project, but said they remain hopeful of prevailing.

"At this point we're still working to get 60," said Sen. John Hoeven. R-N.D., as he and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., introduced a bipartisan bill to end the delays and build the proposed oil pipeline from Canada to the United States.

Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, faces a tough re-election challenge this fall, and has said she will use all her power to make sure the project is built.

In remarks on the Senate floor, she said supporters of the project think "there is so much potential for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico ... to become completely not only energy independent, but an energy powerhouse for the world."

She added, "what signal does it send if America is not willing to do its part when it comes to production right here?"

In their statement, Landrieu and Hoeven said the legislation has the support of 11 Democrats and all 45 of the Senate's Republicans, a total of 56 of the 60 that will be needed. "A vote on the bill is expected in the coming days," they added.

The obvious targets for additional support include six Democrats who voted in favour of a non-binding proposal 13 months ago that expressed general support for the project: Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tom Carper of Delaware, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Bill Nelson of Florida.

Among the group, Casey noted he has twice before voted in favour of the project, and said it was "probably a good guess" to assume he will do so again.

Carper said he is undecided, and intends to meet with Landrieu, Hoeven and others in the coming days.

Johnson, Coons and Nelson indicated Thursday they do not support the legislation to require construction.

In an interview, Johnson said he wants to know President Barack Obama's position. Ian Koski, a spokesman for Coons, said the lawmaker "believes the law makes clear that it's up to the (Obama) administration to make permitting decisions like this one," and not up to Congress.

Nelson's spokesman, Ryan Brown, said the Florida lawmaker favours the pipeline's construction, but won't vote for the legislation because it permits the oil that would flow through the project to be exported.

Bennet could not be reached for immediate comment.

The proposed pipeline would carry oil from Canada to the United States, where it eventually would reach Gulf Coast refineries. Supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and help the United States get closer to a goal of energy independence. Opponents include environmentalists who say the project wouldn't create much permanent employment once it was finished, and say it would reinforce the nation's use of an energy source that worsens global warming.

The legislation is the latest response in Congress to the Obama administration's recent announcement that it was delaying a decision on the pipeline indefinitely, citing a Nebraska court case relating to the project.

The House has voted previously to approve construction of the pipeline.

The White House has not taken a formal position on the legislation, although Democratic officials in the Senate as well as Republican lawmakers say they expect Obama likely would veto it if it reaches his desk.

In a sidebar dispute, some Republicans said the vote should occur on an amendment to energy efficiency legislation that is expected to reach the Senate floor in the next few days. That would present Obama with a more complicated choice, since large numbers of lawmakers in both parties are likely to favour the broader measure.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., said a vote on a free-standing bill that deals only with the pipeline is insufficient "because it will never see the light of day. The president's not going to sign it."

He said the pipeline's fate is in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "and how serious he and our Democratic friends are about this issue."

___

Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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