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17 Democrats ignore Obama's veto threat, join GOP to pass bill speeding up cross-border energy projects

President Barack Obama waves as he walks with first lady Michelle Obama on their return to the White House from a trip to California, Monday, June 16, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The House on Tuesday passed legislation that would speed up the approval process of cross-border oil, gas and electricity projects with the help of 17 Democrats, despite a veto threat from President Barack Obama.

The North American Energy Infrastructure Act is a bipartisan bill that has 12 GOP cosponsors and 8 Democratic cosponsors, and it passed the House Tuesday in a 238-173 vote. It would streamline the approval of cross-border energy projects by eliminating the need for presidential approval, and requiring the approval of projects 120 days after the completion of an environmental impact review.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto a House energy bill, but 17 Democrats voted for it anyway on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The bill prompted Obama to issue a veto threat Tuesday that said it would lead to faster energy infrastructure development at the price of overriding safety, environmental and foreign policy concerns.

"By preventing the opportunity for the necessary assessment of all factors relevant to the national interest, the bill would create significant policy risks and create legal uncertainty for permitting applicants," the White House said in a release.

That statement added that because the bill would "circumvent… proven processes" for approving cross-border projects, "if presented to the president, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill."

The bill would not specifically apply to the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, although opponents say Keystone applicants could use it to submit new applications that would then be covered by the faster procedures. Supporters of the bill said Keystone is an example of why these projects need to be approved more quickly.

"This bill would ensure that important projects would not be stuck in limbo once fully vetted," said House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.). "These cross-border projects would no longer face additional red tape and open-ended delays simply because they cross a national border."

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on Upton's committee, sided with the White House, and said the bill would allow all projects to be rubber-stamped.

"The bill makes an end-run around the National Environmental Policy Act," Waxman argued. "Under this bill, instead of conducting an environmental review of a whole pipeline that crosses the border with Canada or Mexico, the NEPA review would be limited to just the small section of the pipeline crossing the border."

But Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), a long-standing supporter of the Keystone pipeline, said delays in energy projects are hurting U.S. national security.

"This is an issue of national security, and we're going to take as many whacks at trying to get this passed as it takes!" he said.

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