Ever since the Republican Party gained control of both houses of Congress, Mitch McConnell, then the Senate minority leader and now its majority leader, has promised repeatedly that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would be his party’s first order of business.
During that time, President Obama and his staff have been all but mum on the subject, but on Jan. 6, just as the 114th Congress was settling in, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the daily White House briefing, “I would not anticipate that the president would sign this legislation. There’s a well-established process that shouldn’t be changed by legislation.”
The reason is that the measure proposed by the Republicans would strip any president of the power to decide on the pipeline. So far, US presidents have had that authority over any project that crosses international borders, and Keystone XL would move oil nearly 2,000 miles from the Canadian province of Alberta to Texas’ Gulf of Mexico coast.
The veto threat upsets the Republican plans. The House plans to pass the bill on Jan. 9 so that the Senate can take it up the following week. It is expected to pass both houses easily, with support from several of Obama’s fellow Democrats, as well as a majority of citizens polled in November by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
But there probably aren’t the 67 votes necessary to override a presidential veto, and this would mean failure for McConnell’s first initiative as Senate majority leader. “The president threatening to veto the first bipartisan infrastructure bill of the new Congress must come as a shock to the American people who spoke loudly in November in favor of bipartisan accomplishments,” he complained.
The $5.4 billion Keystone XL, proposed by TransCanada Corp. in 2008, would transport 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands of Alberta to US refineries for export around the world. But a political dispute over jobs, the environment and energy prices has held it up.
Because two countries are involved, it needs review by the State Department. That study is stalled pending the resolution of a legal dispute in Nebraska, part of Keystone XL’s route, about the pipeline’s environmental impact in that state. Yet the State Department has already concluded that the pipeline would be safe.
In the dispute over the price of oil, one side says that even though the pipeline’s cargo wouldn’t end up on the US market, more oil on the world market would make its products less expensive everywhere, even in the United States. Obama has countered that oil prices are already low without the pipeline’s influence.
Keystone XL’s supporters also say it would generate thousands of jobs in construction and support businesses such as restaurants for workers at a time when the United States is beginning to climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Opponents point to a State Department report saying those jobs will vanish once the pipeline is built and that only 35 permanent jobs will remain.
One leading supporter of Keystone XL is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose state stands to benefit from the project. He rejects all of the reservations about building and operating the pipeline, especially the State Department’s estimate of the total number of permanent jobs, while embracing its conclusion that the pipeline won't be hazardous.
“Opposition to Keystone is not based on science or reason, and it’s holding our country back,” Jindal said. “It is a shame the president is bowing to the radical left and ignoring his own administration that has said the pipeline is safe.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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