House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans were “not even close” to giving up the fight and derided the veto as a “national embarrassment.”
WASHINGTON (AP) Defying the Republican-run Congress, President Barack Obama rejected a bill Feb. 24 to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, wielding his veto power for only the third time in his presidency.
Obama offered no indication of whether he’ll eventually issue a permit for the pipeline, whose construction has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate about environmental policy and climate change. Instead, Obama sought to reassert his authority to make the decision himself, rebuffing GOP lawmakers who will control both the House and Senate for the remainder of the president’s term.
Obama vetoed the bill in private with no fanfare, in contrast to the televised ceremony Republican leaders staged earlier in February when they signed the bill and sent it to the president. House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans were “not even close” to giving up the fight and derided the veto as a “national embarrassment.”
The move sends the politically charged issue back to Congress, where Republicans haven’t shown they can muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to override Obama’s veto. North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, the bill’s chief GOP sponsor, said Republicans are about four votes short in the Senate and need about 11 more in the House.
Although the veto is Obama’s first since republicans took control on Capitol Hill, it was not likely to be the last. GOP lawmakers are lining up legislation rolling back Obama’s actions on health care, immigration and financial regulation that Obama has promised to similarly reject.
“He’s looking at this as showing he still can be king of the hill, because we don’t have the votes to override,” Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a vocal opponent of Obama’s climate change agenda, said in an interview. “If he vetoed this, he’s going to veto many others that are out there.”
First proposed more than six years ago, the Keystone XL pipeline project has sat in limbo ever since, awaiting a permit required by the federal government because it would cross an international boundary. The pipeline would connect Canada’s tar sands with refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast that specialize in processing heavy crude oil.
Republicans and the energy industry said the $8 billion project would create jobs, spur growth and increase America’s independence from Mideast energy sources. Democrats and environmental groups have sought to make the pipeline a poster child for the type of dirty energy sources they say are exacerbating global warming.
For his part, Obama said his administration is still weighing the pipeline’s merits, and he has repeatedly threatened to veto any attempts by lawmakers to make the decision for him.
Environmental groups said they were confident Obama’s veto was a prelude to a full rejection of the pipeline. But TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline, said it “remains fully committed” to building. And the Canadian government said it was not a matter of if, but when.
The GOP-controlled House passed the bill earlier in February on a 270-152 vote, following weeks of debate and tweaks in the Senate to insert language stating that climate change is real and not a hoax. Republican leaders in Congress delayed sending the bill to the White House until they returned from a weeklong recess, ensuring they would be on hand to denounce the president when he vetoed the bill.
The veto forced Republicans, still reveling in their dramatic gains in the midterm elections, to confront the limitations of being unable to turn their ideas into law without the president’s consent — despite the fact they now control both chambers of Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would start the process to try to override Obama’s veto by March 3. Republicans also were considering inserting Keystone into other critical legislation dealing with energy, spending or infrastructure that Obama would be less likely to veto, said Hoeven.
The president has said he won’t approve Keystone if it’s found to significantly increase U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas blamed for global warming. A State Department analysis found that the tar sands would be developed one way or another, meaning construction of the pipeline wouldn’t necessarily affect emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month called for that analysis to be revisited, arguing that a drop in oil prices may have altered the equation.
Industry Leaders’ Remarks
Following President Obama’s Keystone Pipeline veto, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) President Dennis Slater released this statement:
“I was disappointed — but not surprised — to learn that President Obama has vetoed legislation that would have begun long-overdue construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. By any measure, the Keystone Pipeline is good —good for the economy and good for the equipment manufacturing industry. It’s also the safer option for the environment, compared to alternatives.
At this point, Keystone has been relentlessly studied and scrutinized by the government and outside groups. And the evidence is in: Keystone would not pose a meaningful threat to the environment, and it would promise to create thousands of jobs in construction and manufacturing. The alternative to constructing this vital piece of U.S. energy infrastructure is the continued transportation of crude oil by rail. As we’ve seen recently in West Virginia, this is a volatile and potentially hazardous solution that further diminishes our national rail capacity.
I urge Congress to redouble its efforts to pursue construction of the Keystone Pipeline and for President Obama to end his obstruction of this commonsense project.”
Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, echoed Slater’s disapproval with simular remarks:
“President Obama just made a disastrous decision for thousands of American workers. He had the chance to sign a bill into law that supported American jobs. Instead, he chose to place politics ahead of the economic interests of American workers and deprive thousands of men and women desperate for good-paying jobs.
“The Keystone XL pipeline would have created tens of thousands of jobs. It saddens our unions that a president who has sworn to fight for America’s workers has failed them.”
A sampling of Northeast dealers were equally disappointed and frustrated with the veto.
“I’m almost numb to it because we knew it was going to happen,” said Dennis Heller, president of Stephenson Equipment, Harrisburg, Pa. “It was no surprise because the president has shown that his agenda does not align with the industry. He has pandered to other groups and this is a political decision. And after six years of these kinds of decisions, you’re not even surprised anymore; he’s almost even predictable.
“You get used to being disappointed with Washington and how things are done and not done. I don’t know of any other project that has gone under as much scrutiny as this one, the Keystone XL pipeline, with people coming to agreement that we should do it, but he still vetoes it.”
Frank Beck, territory manager of Eagle Power & Equipment, Montgomery, Pa., said that while he’s disappointed with the veto, there might still be some hope.
“I think if the unions get angry enough, they’ll start hounding the democratic side of the senate and hopefully get the votes to override the veto,” he said. “Obama is never going to sign this. He’s going to keep the environmentalists and the wind power industry happy, which is a big loss for the country.”
Tim Watters, president of Hoffman Equipment, Piscataway, N.J., expressed exasperation over the amount of time spent debating the pipeline when other more serious problems needs to be addressed.
“I’m a supporter of the pipeline, but this issue has been blown way out of proportion for the benefit it will bring to the country and the industry,” he said. “It’s just one silly pipeline. The conservatives have blown this out of proportion making it a cause celeb, and the left has blown it out of proportion by saying its a big harm to the environment, and this is the issue they’ve decided to fight over. It really should only be blip on the radar. The pipeline maybe will create a couple of thousand jobs over two or three years, but I feel we should spend our political capital elsewhere. Let’s create the same amount of uproar over our transportation funding system being broke — let’s create the same uproar that our infrastructure is broken because there’s no money in the tank.”