Keeping good to his promise, President Barack Obama put his pen to the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act bill and vetoed it Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2015 in the White House. Congressional Republicans championed the bill as a job creation measure, while Democrats and environmentalists fiercely opposed the bill, in the end Obama made a partisan decision. The pipeline was also key to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s economic agenda. This was only Obama’s third veto of his presidency, although he was threatening to veto it for some time now Republicans remained hopeful. In anticipation, however, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-OH and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY co-wrote an op-ed in USA Today entitled “Pipeline veto purely political” chiding the president on the upcoming veto.
As Republicans were urging the president to sign the bill, the White House teased on early Tuesday afternoon that the “possibility still does exist” that President Obama would sign the bill. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest commented at the daily press briefing, saying, “It certainly is possible, the president will keep an open mind as the State Department considers the wide range of impacts that this pipeline could have on the country, both positive and negative.” Although, Speaker Boehner signed the bill, finalizing it in a ceremony on Friday, Feb. 13, McConnell held onto the bill until after the Congressional recess only delivering it to Obama on Tuesday morning.
President Obama vetoed the $8 billion project quietly from the White House Oval Office, as Earnest announced, “without any drama or fanfare or delay.” Obama also released a statement on the reasons why he opposes the bill, explaining, “Through this bill the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.” Continuing Obama stated, “The presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. 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.”
Boehner and McConnell wrote their op-ed arguing that Obama veto is entirely politically motivated aimed at catering to special interests, as their subtitle suggests, “The White House should look for common ground on Keystone, not interest group approval.” The Congressional leaders point out, “The White House’s recommendation of a veto has nothing to do with the aforementioned merits of the project. Instead, the administration claims the bill will “cut short” the process for approving the project. We disagree. If anything, the process has been needlessly drawn out: more than 2,300 days have passed since the Keystone application was first filed.”
Continuing, they indicate, “This level of delay is extreme, even for Washington. In fact, approving these types of pipelines was once routine…. What makes Keystone different? Just politics, really. Since 2009, liberal extremists have used the project as an environmental litmus test for the president. And he has repeatedly aimed to please, moving deadlines until after elections and stalling the project to near-death. The snag in their plan was, Keystone just kept on clearing hurdles, including every environmental test, leaving behind all the excuses for delay. A veto now would be the ultimate sop to these extremists at the expense of the greater good.”
McConnell and Boehner argued about the economic benefits, citing the “State Department, which says the project will support at least 42,000 American jobs…. So that’s who wins with a veto: bureaucrats, extremist environmentalists and the Chinese. Meanwhile, the American worker and the unions that represent them? Canada, our dear ally and top trading partner? The middle-class families the president claims to be committed to helping? They’re all left out in the cold.” Concluding, they expressed, “The allure of appeasing environmental extremists may be too powerful for the president to ignore. But the president is sadly mistaken if he thinks vetoing this bill will end this fight. Far from it. We are just getting started.”
The Republican Congressional leaders are keeping true to their word; McConnell already scheduled an override vote for Tuesday, March 3. Speaker Boehner issued a statement after Obama vetoed the bill calling it “a national embarrassment,” and vowing to keep up the fight, saying, “We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built – not even close. We pledged to make the people’s priorities our priorities, and we will keep working every day to deliver on that commitment.” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-AK also issued a statement saying, “I’m not shocked obviously. I’m disappointed because I think the president is missing an opportunity when it comes to jobs and North American energy independence.” The bill passed in House with a vote of 270 to 152, and then the Senate with a vote of 62 to 36, not enough for the two-thirds majority to have overridden any veto, that is why an override vote is now key to the bill’s passage. The House would need the votes of 20 more Democrats, while the Senate would need only four more votes.
Although the United States and especially Republicans advocate the building of the pipeline saying it will bring jobs, the pipeline is more central to Canada’s economy. The Keystone XL oilsands pipeline has been a contentious issue for both countries. The 1,900 km system would carry oil from Alberta’s oilsands through to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. Harper indicated that over 800,000 barrels of oil would pass through the pipeline each day to American refineries, creating thousands of jobs and a definite boon for the economies on both sides of the border. President Obama’s main excuse for not signing the bill was that the State Department did not complete their review of the proposal. Although he could still authorize the project, he has downplayed the economic benefits and has mostly focused on the environmental issues, ignoring a third maybe more important factor, it is safer to transport oil through pipelines than railroads or trucks.
In Canada, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling issued a statement, emphasizing, “Keystone XL is in the national interest of the United States and should be approved and constructed.” While Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said, he was “disappointed but not surprised… While today’s decision was expected, it does not change the fact that Keystone XL would advance North American energy security and prosperity while offering the U.S. access to responsibly developed energy from a close ally and friend.” Speaking for the Prime Minister Harper was Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, who vowed in a statement that the project would be approved, “It is not a question of if this project will be approved; it is a matter of when. This is not a debate between Canada and the U.S.; it’s a debate between the President and the American people, who are supportive of the project.”
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.