Keystone XL goes again to US Congress, Obama confirms presidential veto

The US Republican led Senate is planned to vote again for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday (Jan. 9). The project is to carry oil from Canada to refineries along the US Gulf Coast. Keystone XL backers in the Senate reportedly have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill without risk of a filibuster, with 63 senators currently indicating support. It is unlikely, however, that they will be able to get the 67 votes necessary to override a presidential veto.

On Tuesday (Jan. 6), three days before the Senate vote, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that President Obama will not sign any congressional legislation that passes the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline. “We indicated that the president would veto similar legislation considered by the previous Congress, and our position on this hasn’t changed. I would not anticipate that the president would sign this piece of legislation”, Earnest said.

On November 18th, 2014 the US Senate Democrats stopped legislation that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline by a single vote. The Senate voted 59-41 in favor of the bill that needed 60 votes to pass. All 45 Republican senators and 14 Democratic senators voted in favor of the bill. On Tuesday (Jan. 6) Republicans assumed full control of Congress, following November elections, thereby bringing more support for the legislation, which is anticipated to pass the Senate vote this time. The bill to approve the pipeline has passed in the Republican-led House of Representatives nine times (most recently on Nov. 14, 2014).

Even if the bill had passed in Senate in November 2014, President Obama would have likely used his veto power. Obama has been considering the pipeline for six years, arguing the State Department, which normally has jurisdiction over international infrastructure projects like this one, needs to complete its approval process. A final decision from State Department is pending the outcome of a Nebraska State Supreme Court case that could potentially alter the pipeline’s route.
If President Obama does veto the bill now, it is still possible that the pipeline will be approved by other means. The State Department could approve the project, or supporters of Keystone XL could try to attach the bill to a wider measure that the President would find harder to reject, i.e. spending legislation or measures to improve energy efficiency.


The Keystone XL pipeline project would have the same origin and destination as an existing pipeline, but would take a more direct route to connect the two. The pipeline would also have a greater diameter than current infrastructure.

It is a privately financed $8 billion USD project, with construction costs shared between TransCanada Corp. and other oil shippers. If constructed, the new pipeline could transport 830,000 barrels of oil a day. Oil primarily produced in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada would travel to refineries in Steel City, Nebraska, then to Texas to be exported.
The pros and cons of the project are contended. Those in support of the Keystone XL pipeline claim that it would create thousands of construction jobs, while those against say it would increase carbon emissions.


UPDATE: The Senate energy committee on Thursday (Jan. 8) voted 13-9  in favor of a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline (source: The Guardian). The full Senate will likely vote next week.
Meanwhile, the path of the pipeline through Nebraska has been approved on Friday (Jan. 9) by the state’s highest court. The Nebraska Supreme Court ruling clears one of the last remaining obstacles for the Keystone XL project. Only four of the seven judges agreed that the pipeline legislation was unconstitutional, and five were needed to overturn it.
Now that the Nebraska route has been settled, the State Department is expected to render its decision on whether the pipeline is of national interest. If approved by the State Department, it will then be up to Obama to support or veto the legislation. The White House has said that President Obama will veto any legislation that approves the pipeline.


(Image: Trans-Alaska Pipeline, northern Brooks Range, Alaska, 2007. Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey/Flickr)