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President Barack Obama's veto of the Keystone XL pipeline hit the floor of the U.S. Senate at mid-afternoon Tuesday.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed a bipartisan bill approving the pipeline in January, defying the president's threat of a veto and setting up the first of many expected battles with the White House over energy and the environment.

TransCanada wants to build the $8 billion pipeline to carry mostly tar-sands oil 1,179 miles from Canada to Steele City, where it would hook up with an existing pipeline bound for the Gulf Coast.

Bold Nebraska Director Jane Kleeb, whose supporters sent thousands of pens to Obama urging a veto, praised the move.

"Pres. Obama just stood up with farmers, ranchers and Tribal Nations to protect our land and water," she said in an email moments after the announcement. "The President's veto comes at a time when Republicans will do anything Big Oil asks, even if it means putting our families at-risk of water pollution. We call upon the President to use that same courage and leadership by rejecting the KXL permit once and for all."

The veto is far from the end of the Keystone XL odyssey. Obama has yet to approve or deny TransCanada's request for the presidential permit it needs to build across the border between Canada and the United States.

Obama had said he'd veto the bill from Congress because it would circumvent the ongoing permit process being conducted by the U.S. State Department. 

State Department officials are expected to issue a report soon on whether building the pipeline would be in the nation's best interest. When they do, Obama will have a chance to give the Keystone XL a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

Obama has said he would only approve the project if it doesn't significantly worsen greenhouse gas pollution.

Chris Peterson of the pro-pipeline group Nebraskans for Energy Independence said the president still has a chance to stand with labor and energy groups who have called for approval of the project.

"Moving forward, the President can demonstrate support for jobs and energy security by approving the long-pending construction permit application," he said in an email Tuesday afternoon. "The President has spoken about the importance of the review process running its course and he'll soon have the opportunity to act in the nation's interest by approving Keystone XL."

TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling said the Calgary-based company remains committed to building the Keystone XL. 

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"The pipeline represents a choice of how Americans want to get the oil they need safely and where it should come from," he said in an emailed statement.

"Pipelines are by far the safest and most environmentally sound mode of transporting the millions of barrels of oil Americans use every day," he said. "Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built in America and be an important part of a modern energy infrastructure system that helps minimize impacts to the environment."

Girling, quoting the State Department's environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL, said that without it, oil companies will use means of shipping that are less efficient and less safe.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently said that assumption should be revisited because recent volatility in the global oil market has changed the economics of shipping.

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Keystone XL opponents say building the pipeline will encourage continued development of Canada's oil sands at a time the nation should be investing in more alternative energy sources like wind and solar. 

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Obama’s veto -- the third of his presidency -- a bold protection of Americans’ national interest in the face of Congressional overreach.

“It is time now for the Republican-led Congress to stop playing pipeline politics with our future,” she said during a press call. “We don’t need to pipe the dirtiest oil on the planet through the breadbasket of America.”

This month, TransCanada asked judges to pause all of its condemnation proceedings in Nebraska pending the outcome of two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law that gave it eminent domain authority and allowed former Gov. Dave Heineman to approve the pipeline route here.

Landowners filed the lawsuits in Holt and York counties. A hearing is set for Thursday in York.

In Holt County, District Judge Mark Kozisek issued a temporary injunction Feb. 12 pausing the condemnation cases for the landowners involved in that lawsuit.

The suits are expected to eventually go before the Nebraska Supreme Court.

In Nebraska, TransCanada has about 90 percent of the easements it needs to build and maintain the pipeline. It has all of the easements it needs in Montana and South Dakota.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ljsbergin.

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