7 january 2015

[4C Note: Bill McKibben's Guardian.com column on this topic of January 7 follows the article below]

White House: President Obama would veto Keystone XL pipeline bill

-- Oil pipeline is top priority of new Republican-controlled Congress
-- 'If this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it’

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent and Paul Lewis, The Guardian, Tuesday 6 January 2015

Barack Obama would veto a bill aimed at forcing construction of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline, the White House has said, setting up an immediate confrontation with the new Republican-controlled Congress.

The White House, ending weeks of speculation about its response to Republican moves on Keystone, said Obama would veto a bill introduced earlier on Tuesday that aims to take the decision over the pipeline out of his hands.

“If this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said.

That position locks the White House on an immediate collision course with the new Congress, after Republicans made it a first order of business to introduce a bill forcing approval of the pipeline.

The bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday would give immediate approval to a Canadian pipeline project that has been waiting more than six years for a decision from the Obama administration.

The measure has the support of 63 senators – all 54 Republicans as well as some Democrats – enough to override a filibuster in the Senate.

But the Keystone supporters do not have the 67 votes needed to overcome a presidential veto.

Keystone supporters said the bill fast-tracking the Canadian pipeline was critical to keep crude oil moving.

“We need more pipelines to move crude at the lowest cost and in the safest, most environmentally friendly way,” John Hoeven, the North Dakota Republican introducing the bill, told a press conference. “That means pipelines like the Keystone XL are in the vital national interest of our country.”

TransCanada, the Canadian company building the pipeline, said it was encouraged by the moves in Congress. “We look forward to the debate and ultimately a decision by the US administration to build Keystone XL,” the company said in a statement.

However, TransCanada said the administration had seriously delayed the approval process which, the company said, ordinarily took two years. “We are well over the six-year mark reviewing the final phase of Keystone with seemingly no end in sight. The bar continues to move again and again,” the company’s chief executive, Russ Girling, said in a statement. “It’s time to make a decision.”

Campaigners see the bill as a first shot in a Republican onslaught against the Democratic president’s environmental agenda – from cutting smog to fighting climate change.

“Rather than taking action to support clean energy investments that will spur innovation and create good paying jobs here at home, they have instead chosen to support the Keystone XL pipeline and the false promises made by its proponents,” said Tom Steyer, the green billionaire.

Obama rejected Keystone in 2012, over its original route through Nebraska, and has opposed previous bills aimed at forcing through the project. In his remarks on Tuesday, Earnest did not say Obama would never authorise construction of the pipeline, and couched the planned veto of legislation expected to pass the House and Senate in procedural terms.

Full evaluation of the project could not be completed until the final determination of the route of the pipeline, which is now with the Nebraska supreme court.

“This is an important principle at stake here,” Earnest said, adding that the protocol for approving the pipeline had to be adhered to. He said it would be “premature” for Obama to authorise the pipeline before the court case and evaluation process had been completed.

With Obama determined to use his veto, Republicans acknowledged on Tuesday it would still be a challenge to get the pipeline off the ground.

Their most likely option now is to try to attach Keystone riders to other legislation that Obama would find it difficult to veto.

A Senate energy committee hearing on the bill, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed. Republican leaders said it would take weeks before the bill is brought to a vote.

The bill would bypass the State Department, which has authority over the Keystone project, and grant immediate approval to TransCanada Corporation to “construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline”.

The legislation faces delays from Republicans as well as Democrats pushing to attach various riders to the bill.

Republicans were considering measures that would block or delay Obama’s plans to curb carbon pollution from power plants. Such provisions, it is thought, would be even more likely to incur a presidential veto.

Democrats meanwhile were considering a number of potential riders of their own, including measures that would force the Canadian company building the pipeline to keep all of the oil that flows through it in the US and use only US steel in its construction, and another that would expand financial incentives for solar energy.

With Democrats now holding only 46 votes in the Senate, however, these were unlikely to pass.

The final outcome of the bill will almost certainly depend on whether Obama uses his veto power.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said repeatedly he intends to make Keystone the first order of business in the new Republican-controlled Congress.

The project, designed to deliver up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, has become a flash point for the broader debate about climate change.

The pipeline has faced repeated delays since TransCanada first proposed it seven years ago. The State Department will not render its final decision until later this year, after the courts in Nebraska resolve a dispute over the pipeline’s route.

The pipeline has been a recurring headache for the White House.

Environmental campaigners say that if Obama is serious about climate change, he must block Keystone and stop Canada from expanding production of the oil from its tar sands that would flow through the pipeline, which is a far dirtier fuel source than conventional crude oil.

The November attempt to force construction of the pipeline – a gamble by the Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu – saw a number of Democrats supporting the project but still came up one vote short of the 60 required. The defeat ended Landrieu’s hopes of hanging on to her seat in a run-off election.

Republicans believe they have since picked up more votes from new senators such as West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito and Iowa’s Joni Ernst.

But not even TransCanada officials believe there are the numbers in the Senate to overcome a presidential veto – should Obama decide to exercise that authority


Obama's Keystone veto threat is proof that climate activism works, no matter what the 'insiders' say

Bill McKibben, theguardian.com, Tuesday 6 January 2015

Our fight, from indigenous people in Canada to ranchers in Nebraksa, now challenges the fossil-fuel industry at every turn. If the president sticks to his word, this will be a landmark win

When the news arrived from the White House on Tuesday that Barack Obama would veto the GOP’s Keystone pipeline bill – or at least “that the president would not sign this bill” as is – I thought back to a poll that the National Journal conducted of its “energy insiders” in the fall of 2011, just when then issue was heating up. Nearly 92% of them thought Obama’s administration would approve the pipeline, and almost 71% said it would happen by the end of that year.

Keystone’s not dead yet – feckless Democrats in the Congress could make some kind of deal later this month or later this year, and the president could still yield down the road to the endlessly corrupt State Department bureaucracy that continues to push the pipeline – but it’s pretty amazing to see what happens when people organize.

The fight against the XL pipeline began with indigenous people in Canada, and spread to ranchers along the pipeline route in places like Nebraska. And then, in the spring of 2011, when the climate scientist Jim Hansen pointed out the huge pool of carbon in the Canadian tar sands, the fight spread to those of us in the nascent climate movement. We had no real hope of stopping Keystone – as the National Journal poll indicated, this seemed the most done of deals – but we also had no real choice but to try.

And so people went to jail in larger numbers than they had for many years, and wrote more emails to the Senate than on pretty much any issue in history, and made more public comments to the government than on any infrastructure project in history. And all that effort didn’t just tie up this one pipeline in knots. It also scared investors enough that they shut down three huge planned new tar-sands mines, taking $17bn in capital and millions of tons of potential emissions off the table. And it helped embolden people to fight every other pipeline, and coal port, and frack field, and coal mine. The Keystone fights helped spur a full-on fossil-fuel resistance that now mounts a powerful challenge to the entire fossil-fuel industry at every single turn.

It’s not as if we’re winning the climate fight – the planet’s temperature keeps rising. But we’re not losing it the way we used to. 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. The IOU that the president and the Chinese wrote in November about future carbon emissions is a nice piece of paper that hopefully will do great things in the decades ahead – but the Keystone denial is cash on the barrelhead. It’s actually keeping some carbon in the ground.

The fossil-fuel industry’s aura of invincibility is gone. They’ve got all the money on the planet, but they no longer have unencumbered political power. Science counts, too, and so do the passion, spirit and creativity of an awakened movement from the outside, from the ground-up. So the “energy insiders” of Washington are going to have to recalculate the odds. Because no one’s going to believe that any of these fights are impossible any more.

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