With House passage of a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, the long-debated $5.4 billion project moves next to the Senate, where at least 63 supporters from both sides of the aisle are likely to vote in its favor.
Republicans have made it their priority to greenlight Keystone XL, which would move up to 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil per day 1,100 miles to Gulf Coast refineries. But in his first showdown with the newly GOP-controlled Congress, President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. With the stroke of a pen, he could shut down the pipeline, taking down an opportunity for bipartisanship in the process.
Of course, even if the bill faces a presidential veto, that’s not necessarily the end of it. Congressional leaders might be able to marshal the two-thirds majority needed to override Obama’s bidding. Or, they could make an end run around the veto and attach the Keystone XL legislation to another bill.
The question is, why, after keeping nearly mum on the topic of Keystone XL throughout its protracted six-year study period, has the White House decided now to abruptly and firmly put its foot down?
I think we have to ask ourselves whether the President’s opposition is a sincere part of a well-crafted energy policy or merely symbolic at this point, the political equivalent of taking one’s ball and going home.
After all, the State Department – which has jurisdiction because the pipeline crosses the border with Canada – has engaged in a nearly ad infinitum analysis of the proposed project, raising no significant objections on environmental grounds, which was one of the liberal arguments against the plan from the start. Charged with deciding whether the project is in the nation’s best interest, the State Department most recently said its verdict rested on litigation in Nebraska involving the project’s route. But with the Nebraska Supreme Court removing a major legal obstacle for the Keystone XL pipeline Friday, that uncertainty has been removed. The White House’s contention that it was premature for Congress to move forward before the Nebraska case was settled has been rendered moot.
After six years of delays, there’s some sentiment that Keystone XL is no longer even necessary. Canadian exports to the Gulf Coast have risen 83 percent since 2010, reaching record levels in 2014. Just last month, oil started flowing through the new Flanagan South pipeline, a Canadian project that brings heavy crude from collection terminals in Illinois to the Cushing, OK, storage hub. In addition, the Canadian government has given the go-ahead to two new pipelines that avoid the U.S. entirely, one that flows east to Quebec and the other west to the Pacific. (So much for the hopes of environmentalists who’d rallied opposition to Keystone XL as a way to squash ‘dirty’ Canadian tar sands production altogether.)
And in a recent anti-Keystone XL screed, Obama preached the tired argument that the pipeline will benefit our neighbor to the north more than it does us.