A group of 44 U.S. senators, all Republican but one, have signed on to proposed legislation that would authorize the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline despite the refusal of President Obama to advance the project.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced a bill Monday that, if passed into law, would allow work to begin immediately on all but the sensitive Nebraska portion of TransCanada’s $7 billion project.

It’s not clear how the bill will advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) was the lone Democrat to co-sponsor the bill, but other Democratic senators have expressed support for the controversial project.

Obama put the pipeline on the back burner earlier in January, saying the administration needed more time to review the environmental impact in Nebraska, where the state government is evaluating a new route after rejecting an initial plan that sent the line through a sensitive aquifer region.

The bill, sponsored by Hoeven and Sens. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and David Vitter (R-La.), incorporates an environmental review done by the State Department and allows Nebraska time to find a new route.

“It will create thousands of jobs, help control fuel prices at the pump and reduce our reliance on Middle East oil,” Hoeven said in a statement.

Environmentalists pushed for Obama to block the pipeline because they say the oil that would flow through it — a heavy crude produced from Canadian oil sands — is a bigger polluter than other grades of oil. They have also accused TransCanada and its supporters of inflating job-creation estimates for the project.

Obama has not rejected the project altogether, and TransCanada has said it plans to apply for another presidential permit. But that process would stretch beyond the 2012 election.

The new Senate bill — which would require Obama’s signature to become law — would bypass the president and instead let Congress approve the project. A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said Congress has the constitutional right to legislate permits for cross-border pipelines.

The State Department has said authority for the pipeline should stay with the administration because of the foreign policy, economic, environmental and safety issues involved.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives also are considering legislation to advance the project.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday that Keystone legislation could be included in a highway and infrastructure bill that Congress will consider in February.

— Reuters