Obama, Congress draw battle lines on Keystone XL

On the same day two Republican senators introduced a bill authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil-pipeline extension, the White House said President Obama would veto such a bill if it reached his desk.

“If this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

Republicans took over control of the Senate as the 114th Congress was sworn in Tuesday. The GOP, and some Democrats, have supported the pipeline project for much of the past six years that it’s been in limbo, and the party wasted no time in sponsoring a bill to pressure the Obama administration to approve it: Sens. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, and John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, introduced the Senate bill, and a committee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The House is expected to begin deliberations on its own Keystone bill on Friday.

The last time the House passed an authorization, in November, it was blocked from proceeding by Senate Democrats. But with fewer numbers, the measure has a greater chance of passing this time.

However, the Senate needs 67 votes — two-thirds — to override a presidential veto. As BusinessWeek reported, Hoeven says he has 63 votes in favor of approval, four shy of a veto-proof majority.

Reaction to the White House announcement ran the gamut. House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said in a statement:

On a bipartisan basis, the American people overwhelmingly support building the Keystone XL pipeline. After years of manufacturing every possible excuse, today President Obama was finally straight with them about where he truly stands. His answer is no to more American infrastructure, no to more American energy, and no to more American jobs.

By contrast, environmental activist Bill McKibben, writing in The Guardian, praised the effort that led to the veto threat, considering the pipeline once was considered a shoo-in for approval.

Keystone’s not dead yet – feckless Democrats in the Congress could make some kind of deal later this month or later this year, and the president could still yield down the road to the endlessly corrupt State Department bureaucracy that continues to push the pipeline – but it’s pretty amazing to see what happens when people organize.

The State Department has concluded that the 1,179-mile pipeline extension, which would carry oil-sands crude from western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, wouldn’t significantly add to carbon emissions, but the project would create only 35 permanent U.S. jobs.

Regardless of what happens between Congress and Obama, the final decision on Keystone rests with the State Department, which reports to the president. State has responsibility because the pipeline, to be built by TransCanada Corp., would cross the Canada-U.S. border.

The Post added:

“I think the president has been pretty clear that he does not think that circumventing a well-established process for evaluating these projects is … the right thing for Congress to do,” Earnest said.

Obama rejected a Canadian firm’s application to build the pipeline in 2012.

At a year-end news conference in December, Obama sought to downplay the benefits of the pipeline. He said the benefits for U.S. citizens and workers from the pipeline would be “nominal.”

“I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy,” Obama said.

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