In our news wrap Friday, the Republican-controlled House approved the final phase of the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline for the ninth time. It's never gotten through the Democratic-controlled Senate, but that may be changing after the midterm elections. Also, Iraqi forces claimed new success over the Islamic State in the oil refinery town of Beiji.
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The long-delayed and much fought-over Keystone XL pipeline is back on Congress' to-do list. It won a new vote of support today in the U.S. House, and headed for the Senate, propelled by the midterm elections.
Parts of the massive pipeline already exist, and new parts are being built every day, including this pumping station in Hartford, Missouri. Now the Republican-controlled House has approved the final phase of Keystone for the ninth time. It's never gotten through the Democratic-controlled Senate, but that may be changing.
Keystone is a key issue in next month's runoff between Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy. It's their bills that are being voted on. The pipeline, owned by Canadian energy company TransCanada, would carry oil from Canada all the way to the Texas Gulf Coast, where refineries can turn it into gasoline, diesel and chemicals.
In House debate, Texas Republican Ted Poe and others argued it's a vital alternative to importing oil.
REP. TED POE, (R) Texas: The Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas will bring as much crude oil as we get from Saudi Arabia. It will bring energy security and national security. It will bring jobs. The pipeline will make Middle Eastern politics and energy irrelevant.
Environmentalists warn that extracting oil from Canada's vast tar sands is too expensive and toxic. The pipeline has also drawn protests from some landowners in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, who fear the 875 miles of pipeline will pollute land and water.
A 2010 pipeline break in Michigan's Kalamazoo River was the largest inland spill in U.S. history. It took two years to clean up, with money from an oil liability fund that oil companies pay into.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says the House bill gives TransCanada a pass on contributing.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, House Minority Leader:
TransCanada does not have — will be exempted from paying into the oil spill liability trust fund, even though the tar sands component of what they're transmitting is highly corrosive. So, God willing, there would never be a leak, but if there is, they are totally off the hook.
That debate will carry over to next week, when the Senate takes up Keystone.
North Dakota Republican John Hoeven says supporters hope to muster the 60 votes needed now, or next year, when Republicans take control.
SEN. JOHN HOEVEN, (R) North Dakota: If we don't get 60 votes on Tuesday, in the new Congress, we will have 60 votes. And, again, if you just go through the election results, not only did the American people speak, but when you look at the candidates, we have 60 votes for the bill. Then it's up to the president.
President Obama has repeatedly delayed action on Keystone, and today in Myanmar, he again voiced serious misgivings.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices.
Understand what this project is. It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else.
The president stopped short of saying that he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
The president also challenged Republicans on another issue today: immigration reform. It's been widely reported that he may announce plans to shield five million people from deportation as early as next week. House Speaker John Boehner warned yesterday the Republicans will fight the move tooth and nail, but the president was undeterred.
I indicated to Speaker Boehner several months ago that if in fact Congress failed to act, I would use all the lawful authority that I possess to try to make the system work better. So, they have the ability to fix the system. What they don't have the ability to do is to expect me to stand by with a broken system in perpetuity.
The president made his remarks after meeting privately with Myanmar's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. He praised her efforts for democratic reforms and said a law barring her from running for president — quote — "doesn't make much sense." Suu Kyi was a political prisoner for two decades before her release four years ago.
From Myanmar, the president traveled to Brisbane, Australia, for a summit of the world's leading economies. But tensions are brewing there between the host country and Russia. President Vladimir Putin touched down in Brisbane today following news that four Russian warships have taken up stations off Australia's northeastern coast. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused Putin of trying to reclaim the lost glories of the Soviet Union.
In Iraq, government officials claimed new success against Islamic State fighters. State television reported Iraqi troops backed by allied Sunni fighters drove the militants out of Baiji and away from a strategic oil refinery. The Islamic State group seized the town during a summer offensive.
In economic news, Europe showed modest improvement in the third quarter and narrowly avoided falling back into recession. That's due in part to Greece, where a grinding six-year recession has officially ended.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hailed the news.
PRIME MINISTER ANTONIS SAMARAS, Greece (through interpreter): I promise you today that growth will continue at an even faster pace. No Greek will miss out on this growth. In spite of the misery in which many speculated, hope is back. Greece is back.
The Greek economy is now 25 percent smaller than it was in 2008.
Wall Street had a lackluster ending to its week. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 18 points to close at 17,634. The Nasdaq rose eight points to close at 4,688. And the S&P 500 moved a fraction higher to 2,039. For the week, the Dow and the S&P gained about half-a-percent. The Nasdaq rose 1 percent.
A Justice Department official is defending federal marshals for collecting cell phone metadata to track fugitives. The Wall Street Journal reported the program uses devices on small planes to mimic cell phone towers, gather data and locate the user. A Justice official insisted today the marshals are not interested in tracking the cell phones of ordinary Americans.
And European scientists watched and waited today, hoping the spacecraft that landed on a comet can keep working. It's apparently sitting in the shadow of a cliff that's blocking sunlight needed for its solar panels. The lander did manage to drill 10 inches into the comet's surface, but it may not have enough power to transmit the data back to Earth.