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U.S. Senate panel advances bill to force Keystone pipeline approval

By Ros Krasny

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Energy Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that would force congressional approval of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline project, but the measure seems unlikely to be taken up by the full Senate.

The bill, the latest effort by lawmakers to breathe life into the long-delayed pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, will languish without a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring it to a vote.

The measure, from Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Republican Senators John Hoeven of North Dakota and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, would take a decision on approving the pipeline away from the Obama administration.

Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming termed Wednesday's vote "a cheerleading exercise" but still voted in favor of the bill, part of a 12-10 majority on the panel.

Another measure from Hoeven to approve the pipeline has 55 cosponsors but has not been put to a vote in the 100-member Senate. Support is just short of the level that would be needed to overcome an expected veto from President Barack Obama.

"The obstacle to getting Keystone built is not the Energy Committee, it's the Senate Majority Leader," Barrasso said of Reid, a Democrat from Nevada. "The Senate Majority Leader could have scheduled a vote at any time in the past seven weeks."

Last month, Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill backed by manufacturers and environmentalists, and by doing so forfeited a chance to vote on the long-delayed pipeline.

Reid at the time had offered a vote on Hoeven's Keystone bill if Republicans allowed passage of the energy bill.

TransCanada has waited more than five years a decision on the $5.4 billion project, which would carry up to 830,000 barrels per day of crude from the oil sands of northern Alberta to refiners in Texas.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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