Obama indicates he may veto pipeline after Republicans pass Keystone XL bill


Keystone could be decided as early as next week as Republicans force Obama to finally make a decision

On Nov. 12, after the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill giving a green light to Canada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama hinted that he may exercise his presidential veto to stop Congress from approving the project.  After six years of back and forth environmental impact assessments by the U.S. State Department, the Republican Party wants the oil to start flowing.

If the bill passes, the pipeline will take oil from Hardisty, Alberta to refineries in Texas to be distributed across the U.S. But for a president who has staked his legacy on climate change, Obama is adamant to convince Americans it is not in the national interest.

“I have to constantly push back against this idea that, somehow, the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices,” Obama told reporters at a press conference in Burma.  “Understand what this project is: it is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”

After the Democrat’s drubbing in the midterm elections, Obama’s tone on the Keystone proposal has shifted markedly. He appeared agitated and confrontational as the president doubted whether there were any substantive benefits to be had from completing the pipeline.  “Ultimately, is this going to be good for the American people?  Is it going to be good for their pocketbook? Is it going to actually create jobs? Is it actually going to reduce gas prices … and is it going to be, on net, something that doesn’t increase climate change?” Mr. Obama asked the day after the midterms.  “This is Canadian oil, this isn’t U.S. oil,” he added after down playing the impact of the TransCanada Corp.  $8 billion pipeline.

However, Republican opposition isn’t Obama’s only worry. There are many Senate Democrats who support the pipeline, particularly in those states where the pipeline will create jobs, but also because many Democrats are simply frustrated with Obama’s lack of leadership on this question.  This latest Keystone bill is the ninth time the pipeline bill has been through the House of Representatives. However, it still remains uncertain whether the Senate will support and pass the legislation.

After Obama’s recent pledge to work with China to reduce CO2 emissions over the next decade and his announcement this week of a $3 billion investment in a new international climate change fund to support the world’s poorest economies in curbing greenhouse emissions, if the Senate passes the bill, senior officials in the White House say Obama will most likely exercise his veto.  The bill passed 252 votes to 161. No Republicans voted against the bill but 31 Democrats supported it.

However, much hangs on the Senate where the bill’s supporters remain one vote short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. White House officials are insisting that the State Department still needs time to determine if Keystone is really in the ‘national interest’ and to complete its final environmental impact assessment, slated to come out sometime in early 2015. This isn’t the first time the Obama administration has used this delaying tactic to keep the brakes on the project.

The White House also pointed to the unfinished court proceedings in Nebraska where the proposed route of the pipeline is being challenged, arguing there is still a great deal of uncertainty clouding the complexities of this arrangement.

What might be the ultimate factor in the Keystone question are the environmental consequences. However, since the State Department has said repeatedly that the environmental impact of Keystone is negligible, exactly what Obama will base his veto on no one really knows.

What everyone does know, on the other hand, is that this president is getting desperate to leave behind some kind of climate change legacy.

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