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Group of 44 senators try to kickstart Keystone XL oil pipeline project

Planned pipe from Canada to US was postponed, but not vetoed, by Barack Obama on environmental grounds

A group of 44 US senators, all Republican except one, have backed proposed legislation that would allow the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline despite the refusal of Barack Obama to advance the project.

Republican senator John Hoeven is set to introduce a bill on Monday that, if passed into law, would allow work to begin immediately on TransCanada’s controversial bn (£4.5bn) project.

It is not yet clear how the bill will advance in the Senate, which the Democrats control with 51 of the 100 seats.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the lone Democrat supporting the bill, but other Democratic senators have supported the project in the past.

Obama put the pipeline on the backburner earlier in January, saying the administration needed more time to review the environmental impact in Nebraska, where the state government is evaluating a new route after rejecting an initial plan to send the line through a sensitive aquifer region.

The bill, led by Hoeven, Richard Lugar and David Vitter, incorporates an environmental review carried out by the state department, and allows Nebraska time to find a new route.

“It will create thousands of jobs, help control fuel prices at the pump and reduce our reliance on Middle East oil,” Hoeven said in a statement.

Environmentalists pushed for Obama to block the pipeline because they believe oil sands crude is a bigger polluter than other grades of oil.

They have also accused TransCanada and its supporters of inflating the number of jobs that will be created by the project.

Obama has not rejected the project altogether, and TransCanada has said it plans to apply for another presidential permit. But that process would stretch beyond the 2012 election.

The new Senate bill – which would require Obama’s signature to become law – would bypass Obama and let Congress approve the project.

A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said Congress has the constitutional right to legislate permits for cross-border pipelines.

The state department has said authority for the pipeline should stay with the administration because of the foreign policy, economic, environmental and safety issues involved.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives also are considering legislation to advance the project.

John Boehner, the speaker of the House, said on Sunday that Keystone legislation could be included in a highway and infrastructure bill that Congress will consider in February.

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