Obama Vetoes Keystone Pipeline

The veto marks the first high-profile clash between the White House and Capitol Hill Republicans.

Keystone Pipeline
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Feb. 24, 2015, 8:31 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama dealt a blow to Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers by veto­ing a top GOP pri­or­ity — a bill to ap­prove the Key­stone XL pipeline — send­ing it back to the Sen­ate, where an at­tempt to over­ride the veto will likely fail.

That veto, only the third ever is­sued by Obama, is ex­pec­ted to ush­er in a new era of hos­tile con­front­a­tion between the pres­id­ent and the Re­pub­lic­an Con­gress. It also marks the latest twist in a years-long saga over the oil-sands pro­ject, an icon­ic sym­bol at the cen­ter of a con­ten­tious de­bate over Amer­ic­an en­ergy se­cur­ity, oil prices, and glob­al warm­ing.

Obama re­it­er­ated his prom­ise to veto le­gis­la­tion green-light­ing the con­tro­ver­sial oil-sands pipeline be­fore the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s years-long re­view of the pro­ject has played out.

“The Pres­id­en­tial power to veto le­gis­la­tion is one I take ser­i­ously,” Obama said in a state­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing the veto. “But I also take ser­i­ously my re­spons­ib­il­ity to the Amer­ic­an people. 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.”

Re­pub­lic­ans on Cap­it­ol Hill have vowed to keep press­ing for Key­stone’s ap­prov­al des­pite the veto. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell said on Tues­day that the Sen­ate will at­tempt to over­ride the veto, a vote that Mc­Con­nell said would take place no later than March 3.

There do not ap­pear to be 67 votes in the Sen­ate to over­ride the veto, but Re­pub­lic­ans have prom­ised to tie the pro­ject to fu­ture en­ergy le­gis­la­tion or must-pass spend­ing bills that Obama would be hard-pressed to re­ject.

“Even though the pres­id­ent has yiel­ded to power­ful spe­cial in­terests, this veto doesn’t end the de­bate. Amer­ic­ans should know that the new Con­gress won’t stop pur­su­ing good ideas, in­clud­ing this one,” Mc­Con­nell said in a state­ment.

Tran­sCanada, the Ca­na­dian com­pany seek­ing to build the pipeline, de­clared it “re­mains fully com­mit­ted to Key­stone XL des­pite today’s veto of bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion in sup­port of the pro­ject.”

The veto also isn’t the last time Obama will weigh in on Key­stone. The pres­id­ent still needs to make a fi­nal de­term­in­a­tion on the pro­ject. White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est would not say Tues­day when that will hap­pen.

“The re­view is be­ing con­duc­ted by the State De­part­ment, so you can get an up­date from them,” Earn­est said.

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry must weigh in on the pipeline be­fore the White House can make a fi­nal de­cision. Kerry told Na­tion­al Journ­al on Tues­day that he could not provide a con­crete timeline for a de­cision from the State De­part­ment.

“I don’t know. I have so much on my plate right now. I can’t tell you,” Kerry said.

Obama has in­dic­ated in re­cent months that he does not be­lieve Key­stone would provide much be­ne­fit to the United States. But Earn­est said the veto will not rep­res­ent a view­point on the pro­ject, and he re­it­er­ated that Obama is veto­ing the bill be­cause it cuts the on­go­ing fed­er­al re­view short.

“It cir­cum­vents a long-stand­ing ad­min­is­trat­ive pro­cess for eval­u­at­ing wheth­er or not in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects like this are in the best in­terest of the coun­try,” he said at the daily White House press brief­ing.

Earn­est af­firmed that Obama could still de­cide to green-light the pipeline.

“[Ap­prov­al] cer­tainly is pos­sible. This pres­id­ent will keep an open mind as the State De­part­ment con­siders the wide range of im­pacts this pipeline could have on the coun­try, both pos­it­ive and neg­at­ive, so we’ll see what hap­pens,” he said.

Ben Geman contributed to this article.
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