Keystone XL in Limbo after Veto
TransCanada's proposed 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast is back on indefinite hold in the wake of a rare presidential veto on Tuesday (Feb. 24).
For only the third time in his presidency, President Obama used his veto authority to block a Republican bill that would have advanced the seven-year-old pipeline proposal.
Obama had warned Congress that he would veto such a measure, and he did so within hours of it landing on his desk.
In his veto message to the Senate, the President accused Congress of attempting "to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest."
Reviews and Reports
The pipeline proposal remains before the U.S. State Department, which has already completed four reviews of the project—including, most recently, an 11-volume Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in January 2014 that found no significant impact by the $7.6 billion project.
That State Department analysis incorporated nearly two million comments but triggered about 2.5 million more, which the agency now says must be reviewed. Meanwhile, litigation has been underway over the pipeline's proposed route through Nebraska.
|U.S. State Department|
The U.S. State Department is reviewing the project again. The agency's 11-volume Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in January 2014 found no major environmental concerns.
Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that he had no idea when his department would complete its current review and send its recommendation on the project to Obama.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which also has a role in the project, has ripped the State Department's analyses of the project as inadequate. Nearly two years ago, EPA requested a variety of additional studies into the pipeline's environmental impact.
Conditions and Permits
The Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude (also known as tar sands crude) from Canada to Texas for refining. The 875-mile segment of line from Alberta to Steele City, NE, requires a Presidential Permit to cross the U.S.-Canadian border.
The pipeline's bipartisan backers say the project has been exhaustively evaluated and would provide jobs and energy security.
Pipeline owner TransCanada has accepted dozens of federal conditions attached to the project and has rerouted the line away from the most environmentally sensitive areas.
|U.S. State Department|
The pipeline's cross-border northern leg has been rerouted to address environmental concerns, but litigation still surrounds the project's course through Nebraska.
Environmentalists and other critics call the project both unnecessary and environmentally risky. The system would carry tar-sands crude, which is heavier and more corrosive than regular "sweet" crude.
Project foes also question TransCanada's operating record. The first 1,300 miles of the Keystone system saw 14 leaks and spills in the first 14 months of operation.
The Keystone XL veto was Obama's first in five years and only the third of his presidency. (Only Millard Fillmore and James Garfield used fewer vetoes, and Garfield died after a month in office.)
"The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously," Obama's message said. "But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.
|Official White House photo / Pete Souza|
President Obama vetoed said the Keystone bill circumvented the process for determining whether a cross-border pipeline served the national interest.
"And because this act of Congress 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—it has earned my veto."
Jeers and Cheers
Reaction to the veto came swiftly.
TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling said in a statement that the company remained “fully committed” to Keystone XL, despite the veto. Girling said the project would be "the safest pipeline ever built in America."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called the President's action "a national embarrassment."
Boehner said Obama was "too invested in left-fringe politics" to "put the national interest first" and called the President "too close to environmental extremists to stand up for America's workers."
Critics of the pipeline took their opposition to the White House in 2011, stalling the project then.
Canadian officials, who also support the pipeline, were resolute. “It is not a question of if this project will be approved; it is a matter of when,” Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said in a statement.
Praise came from environmentalists and some Democrats in Congress.
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) said in a statement that the pipeline was "not in America's national interest."
Markey added: "We should not help some of the dirtiest oil in the world to be funneled through our country like a straw, just so much of it can be exported to foreign nations.
"That is a bad deal for our country, and a dangerous proposition for our climate.”
Republicans immediately said they would attempt to override the President's veto by March 3, but an override is considered unlikely, despite Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), left, called the President's Keystone XL veto "a national embarrassment." Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), right, countered that the pipeline project was "a bad deal for our country."
An override would require about 20 more Democratic votes in the house and four in the Senate, based on the congressional votes last month, politico.com reported.
Still, the effort is afoot.
"...[W]e are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built," said Boehner. "Not even close."