What’s Next For The Keystone Pipeline?
By Marita Noon
After six years of dithering, the Keystone pipeline project has finally cleared both the Senate and the House with strong bipartisan support—mere percentage points away from a veto-proof majority. Now it goes to the White House where President Obama has vowed to veto it. (Ed. Note: As we go to press, President Obama has already vetoed the measure.) The Keystone pipeline should have never been an issue in Congress. Because it crosses an international border, the pipeline requires State Department approval.
With millions of miles of pipeline already traversing the country and dozens already crossing the U.S.-Canada border the Keystone pipeline should never have made news, except that Obama’s environmental base has made it the literal line in the sand. Within the President’s base, only two groups feel strongly about the Keystone pipeline—the unions want it, the environmentalists don’t. Each has pressured him to take its side.
I’ve likened the conflict to the classic cartoon image of a devil on one shoulder prodding an activity saying, “Oh it will be fun, everyone is doing it,” vs. the angel on the other warning, “Be careful, you’ll get into trouble.”
Trying to appease both sides, the president resisted taking a stand. Instead of a firm answer, he has avoided a decision that would ultimately anger one side or the other. First, the problem arose of the pipeline crossing over the aquifer—so it was re-routed. Next, it was held up in the Nebraska Supreme Court—but, that received a favorable resolution. Waiting for the State Department’s fifth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) provided another delay. When the EIS finally came out, it declared the project would have minimal environmental impact and that it would produce the least amount of greenhouse gasses of any other alternative transportation method. Now Obama says Congress needs to let the State Department’s approval process play out—though no one knows when that might occur.
The labor unions, which want some of the 42,000 jobs the State Department’s projects will materialize, grow increasingly impatient. In 2012, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) broke ranks from a long-standing relationship with green groups over the Keystone pipeline and pulled out of the Blue/Green Alliance. LIUNA President Terry O’Sullivan said of his fellow union leadership: “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women.”
Since then, the AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka; James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; and Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions has joined O’Sullivan in pushing approval. Once the bill is vetoed, it goes back to Congress where it must be “reconsidered”—which means it can be voted on again or can go back to committee where some adjustments may be made that will make it more attractive to members, who didn’t vote on it the first time around.
Because the Senate and the House have both voted, which Democrats voted against the bill is also well known—many of those Democrats represent heavily unionized districts. To override the presidential veto, 5 more votes are needed in the Senate (Marco Rubio wasn’t present during the January 29 vote and would be assumed to be a “yes” vote, meaning only 4 Democrats need to be swayed.); in the House, about 12.
With some arm twisting from the unions, those additional votes shouldn’t be all that difficult to come by and the Keystone XL pipeline can finally move forward—providing Americans with thousands of good-paying jobs and increased energy security. Meanwhile, President Obama will have made his position perfectly clear.