President Obama has today—as expected—quietly vetoed a bill that sought to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The bill passed both the Senate and the House in recent weeks, but as Obama has often repeated, he will wait for the State Department to complete its review of the proposed pipeline before making a final decision as to its fate.
The veto—which is only the third of Obama’s presidency—confirms an oft-repeated stance by the President that he will wait for the State Department to complete its review as to whether or not Keystone XL will be in the best interests of the nation. In his letter to the Senate, informing them of the veto, President Obama stated: “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.”
One of the key environmental arguments against the pipeline comes in the form of the EPA’s own Environmental Impact Study, which has been submitted to the State Department for inclusion in their review. Among the EPA’s findings was is the calculation that, if approved, Keystone XL will cause an additional 1.37 billion tons of greenhouse gases to be released.
In a press briefing prior to the announcement of the veto, White House press secretary Josh Earnest could not speak to when the State Department’s review would be completed—it’s been in the works for around 2,300 days so far—but said that he “anticipates that once the review is completed there would not be a significant delay in announcing the results and making a decision on this project.”
And so this is far from the end of the Keystone XL debate. House and Senate Republicans, and a few errant Democrats, have vowed to challenge the President’s veto. Rather ominously, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a written statement: “[T]he president is sadly mistaken if he thinks vetoing this bill will end this fight. Far from it…We are just getting started.”
What is implied in that statement is that yes, they will attempt to override the veto—four more votes would make the bill veto-proof in the Senate. However it is highly unlikely that the requisite two-thirds of the House would vote pro-pipeline. So, assuming the veto holds, Keystone supporters may seek to pass legislation supporting the pipeline that is more difficult to veto. This could be done by packaging the pipeline approval within an appropriations bill or a broader energy package.
As for the actual stance of the Obama Administration, that will remain unknown until the completion of the State Department review. If that review were to somehow find that Keystone XL is—overall—in the best interests of the US, then there is the possibility that Obama could still move in favor of the pipeline.
There are also ongoing legal challenges to Keystone XL at the state level, which mean that regardless of what happens in Washington, the pipeline is quite literally going nowhere. The path for the pipeline through Nebraska is still pending approval, and TransCanada is yet to receive the appropriate permits to move forwards with construction in South Dakota.
In short, Keystone XL is at a standstill, but the fight will certainly continue.