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Republicans have passed a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a measure that President Obama has promised to veto – not because he opposes the project itself, but because he believes he has the sole authority to approve it.
The legislation, which passed in the Senate in late January, was approved in the House by a vote of 270-152. One Republican voted against the measure and 29 Democrats favored it. It will be sent to the White House for Obama’s consideration the week of Feb. 23. After that he has 10 days to decide whether to sign or veto it.
And despite broad bipartisan support for the measure in both houses, neither the Senate nor the House has the necessary two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto.
The 1,179-mile pipeline project, which would ship up to 830,000 barrels of oil sands from Canada to refineries on the US coast of the Gulf of Mexico, is a nest of controversy. For example, supporters say it would create jobs in the United States and help the country become more energy independent.
Opponents counter that most of the jobs will evaporate once the pipeline is built, and that the oil it carries is meant for export, not for use in the United States. They also contend that Canadian oil sands are among the most polluting forms of crude and thus the project would contribute to climate change.
Republicans see the issue as popular among voters who may perceive Obama as siding with radical environmentalists against the good of the US economy. “Instead of listening to the people, the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists,” House Speaker John Boehner said. “The president needs to listen to the American people and say ‘yes, let’s build the Keystone pipeline.’ ”
Obama argues that because the pipeline would cross an international border, from Canada into the United States, only his office, not Congress, has the jurisdiction to approve it or scrap it. He also has said a vote by Congress would improperly bypass a continuing review of the project at the State Department, which also has the authority over a cross-border pipeline.
The House vote came hours after Canada’s ambassador in Washington, Gary Doer, and Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, which would build the pipeline, sent separate letters to the State Department criticizing the US Environmental Protection Agency over comments it made Feb. 2 that the current low price of oil could lead the pipeline to have a greater impact on climate change than first believed.
“This conclusion is not supported by the conclusions drawn in the FSEIS [Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement] or by actual market prices and production rates since TransCanada first applied for Keystone XL in 2008,” Girling wrote.
The FSEIS was contained in a State Department environmental report issued in January 2014 that the pipeline, if built, would not lead to a significant rise in atmospheric pollution. Yet environmentalists say they are optimistic that Obama’s veto on procedural grounds is evidence that eventually he will reject the project altogether.
“[W]e are more confident than ever that he will soon reject this dirty and dangerous pipeline once and for all,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, told The New York Times.
The Obama administration has been reviewing Keystone XL for six years so far, and both supporters and opponents of the project are urging the president to make a final decision soon. If it is ever completed, the pipeline system would cross from the Canadian province of Alberta and move through six US states.
TransCanada already has spent $3 billion on Keystone XL, and expects to spend more than $10 billion on it if it gets a chance to finish it.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com