Update: Polluting oil pipeline faces more setbacks as Obama threatens to block Congress bill
By Sophie Yeo
President Obama has threatened to veto a bill backing construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, steering a seven-year debate over its future towards a conclusion.
Environmentalists have fought the pipeline from 2008, when it was first introduced. They are opposed to it because production of the crude oil that it would transport from Canada to Texas, derived from the Alberta tar sands, is 81% more polluting than conventional oil.
On Tuesday Republicans introduced plans to give immediate approval to the pipeline, a move that was quashed during the White House daily press briefing.
“If this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it,” said Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest.
This was confirmed on Wednesday in a statement from the White House, saying Obama’s senior advisors would recommend a veto on the grounds that it “seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes” to determine whether the bill is in the national interest.
Republicans – and some Democrats – have been determined to approve the construction of the pipeline, saying that it will create jobs and lower gas prices.
Although the decision ultimately rests with Obama, legislators are trying to push a bill through Congress that would rule out the need for a presidential permit. A previous effort was voted down in November.
An estimated 64 senators support the new proposals, 54 Republicans and 10 Democrats. 67 votes are needed to overcome a presidential veto.
Earnest added Obama’s veto threat was based on procedural, rather than environmental grounds.
“There is already a well-established process in place to consider whether or not infrastructure projects like this are in the best interest of the country,” he said.
He said an ongoing court case in Nebraska concerning the route of the pipeline was impeding a final decision.
Obama must still issue a final rejection in order to kill the project. He has made it clear that he will only approve the pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”.
Green groups welcomed the president’s intervention.
Bill McKibben, founder of the group 350.org, wrote in the Guardian that it proved that climate activism is working.
In March 2014 McKibben was one of nearly 400 protestors arrested in Washington after a day of campaigning against the pipeline. Many were detained after tying themselves to the Whote House railings
“If the president sticks to his word, this will be the first major fossil fuel project ever shut down because of its effect on the climate,” he said.
But the news was met with fury from leading Republicans, such as Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
“It’s interesting to note that the President declined to issue a veto threat last month when a Democrat senator was trying to save her job over the exact same Keystone bill,” he said.
“Once again the president is standing in the way of a shovel-ready jobs project that would help thousands of Americans find work.”