In a move that should surprise absolutely no one, President Obama today followed through on his promise to veto a Republican-led bill that would have forced approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. It was the first major veto of his presidency.
The proposed 1,179-mile pipeline, which would ship some 830,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands crude down to Port Arthur, has been debated ad nauseam throughout much the Obama presidency. While industry has trotted out suspect jobs figures and insisted that the pipeline could ween us off big, bad, scary Middle-East oil, environmentalists have called Keystone a defining moment for action against climate change.
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In a letter announcing the veto, Obama chided Congress for attempting to override the State Department review and approval process. He even threw a bone to the loud environmentalist movement that's clamored against the pipeline (notice his passing reference to the "environmental" issue):
"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. 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 the issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment -- it has earned my veto."
In its long-awaited environmental impact assessment last year, the State Department essentially said mining and refining the Canadian tar sands was a foregone conclusion -- that the stuff would be burned anyway, regardless of whether it's shipped via Keystone -- and that any argument against the pipeline that invoked climate change was a nonstarter. But last month, an EPA official cited tanking oil prices to challenge that premise. In her letter to the State Department, assistant EPA administrator Cynthia Giles insisted that below that $65-per-barrel mark, shipping tar sands crude by rail, the more expensive route, would no longer an attractive, lucrative option for industry.
For now, it appears the only way Keystone will be built is if Congress can muster a super-majority to override Obama's veto, if the State Department review ultimately concludes the project is in the "national interest", or if Obama changes his mind.