The State Department cited the Sandhills as a key reason to delay the project. The State Department has authority over the project because it crosses a U.S. border. After the delay was announced, TransCanada agreed to divert the pipeline around the Sandhills, although an exact route has not been determined.
Last week, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed two laws aimed at oil pipelines, including one that requires state officials to conduct an environmental review of Keystone XL.
Johanns said the Senate bill would allow construction of the pipeline to begin in all states except Nebraska, where construction would be put off until an acceptable route is found and all required reviews are completed.
"The issues in Nebraska have been resolved," Johanns said, adding that the White House should not hide behind concern over the Sandhills as a reason to delay the project further.
Nebraska's other senator, Democrat Ben Nelson, called the GOP bill "well intentioned" but unnecessary. He said state officials have worked out a "good compromise" with TransCanada and the State Department that should be allowed to continue.
"If something goes awry, I can look at legislation at that time," he told reporters Wednesday.
Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hopes to have a public hearing on the bill by the end of the year.
A spokeswoman for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the panel's chairman, said Kerry was in contact with Lugar and "evaluating how best to move forward."
Matthew Daly can be followed at http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC
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