In Major Victory, President Obama Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline
by Brian Gumm, 11/6/2015
UPDATE (11/6/2015): In a major victory for public health and the environment, President Obama took final action on the Keystone XL pipeline and rejected the risky project on Nov. 6. The move comes after pipeline company TransCanada tried to game the system earlier in the week by asking the Obama administration to suspend the company's permit application. The administration denied that request, which was seen as an attempt to delay a final decision on Keystone XL until after Obama was out of office.
The Keystone XL pipeline, which sparked seven years of debate and public conversations about climate change and energy, would have transported up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Canada to oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Landowners and public interest groups strongly objected to the pipeline proposal because of the high risk of damaging spills, the dangers it posed to crucial drinking water and irrigation water sources, and tar sands oil's potential to spew even more climate-altering pollution into the atmosphere than regular crude oil.
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Editor's note: Katie Weatherford authored the original text of this post.
UPDATE (2/25/2015): President Obama followed through on his pledge and vetoed the Keystone XL bill on Tuesday, within hours of the bill arriving at his desk. Obama explained that he vetoed the bill because it “conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment . . . .”
As for the future of the Keystone XL pipeline, the president’s veto does not put an end to the project altogether. Rather, the State Department will soon finish its review of the project, and then the president will make a decision on whether to issue a permit that would allow it to proceed.
In the meantime, members of Congress who support the pipeline bill are working to garner enough votes to override the president’s veto – a process that requires a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber and generally has a less than 10 percent success rate. The Keystone bill passed the House by 270-152 and the Senate by 62-36, meaning both chambers would need to gain several more Democratic votes to override the veto. Finding these additional votes is unlikely.
In a broader political context, while this only the third veto Obama has issued since taking office, his statement suggests he will not shy away from exercising this power more frequently if Congress makes similar attempts to enact legislation that would circumvent the president’s role in decisions affecting the national interest.
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On the first day of the 114th Congress, Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced the Keystone XL Pipeline Act (S. 1), which would attempt to force the Obama administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline without first addressing its significant environmental impacts.
The bill would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, bypassing a requirement that the company behind the project obtain a presidential permit. President Obama has declined to make a final decision on whether or not to issue the permit until after his administration has completed its review of the project’s environmental and economic impacts. Also still pending is a decision from the Nebraska Supreme Court on the legality of the pipeline’s proposed route through the state.
Instead of waiting for the White House to make a determination, the bill declares that an environmental impact statement issued by the State Department in January 2014 satisfies all legal requirements for environmental analyses, consultations, or reviews of the project. But the bill completely ignores the State Department’s findings that greenhouse gases emitted from the pipeline would contribute to climate change, and potential leaks would pose significant risks to water resources across the country.
To make matters worse, the pipeline would not substantially benefit our economy or create many jobs. According to the State Department’s 2014 report, the project would provide only 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs after the roughly 16,100 direct temporary jobs have ended. Moreover, despite claims by the bill sponsors that the pipeline would help reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil, most of the oil will be exported to other countries.
The proposed legislation is set to be reviewed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which Hoeven and Manchin both serve. A committee hearing on the bill originally scheduled for Jan. 7 was postponed due to an objection by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). A committee business meeting scheduled for Jan. 8 to markup the bill may also be postponed, although no official announcement has yet been made. Once the bill reaches the Senate floor, it may face opposition from some Democrats opposed to the controversial pipeline. However, with the Republican Party now holding a majority of seats in both the Senate and House, this latest version of the bill is expected to pass swiftly in both chambers.
Congressional passage will not be the end of the story, however. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest signaled this week that President Obama intends to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. As of Tuesday, Jan. 6, Hoeven indicated that he only had 63 votes for the bill, four short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. There's still time for citizens to make their voices heard on this legislation. A quick e-mail or call to your senators' office can make a difference! Find your senators' e-mail addresses and numbers on the Senate's website: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 7, 2015.