The Republicans in Congress passed a Senate bill Wednesday approving the construction of the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has pledged to veto. But shortly after the House vote, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), the bill’s sponsor, threatened to attach the Keystone bill as a rider to must-pass legislation if Obama goes through with his promised veto.
“President Obama now has 10 days to sign or veto this bill,” Hoeven said in a statement. “If he vetoes it, we will continue to press for approval by attaching an approval measure to another bill, perhaps an energy bill or must-pass appropriations legislation. He needs to work with Congress in a bipartisan way and approve the Keystone XL pipeline project for the American people.”
The White House responded the next day, reiterating that Obama will veto the bill and indicating that plans are in place to deal with the kind of “legislative maneuvering” that Hoeven has promised.
“As you know, the approval process for this pipeline is one that predates this administration, and is hubbed at the State Department. We're going to let that process unfold,” Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said, referring to an ongoing review of the pipeline proposal by the State Department. “The President has announced that he would oppose and veto any legislative maneuvering to circumvent that process. So he will indeed be vetoing it. But again, I don't even think they’ve sent the bill over or even announced when the bill would come over.”
The pipeline is a Canadian-owned project that would carry up to 830,000 barrels a day of bituminous crude oil more than 1,700 miles from the Alberta oil sands through Indian country and American states to refineries in Texas, then on to Gulf Coast ports for shipping to world markets.
The proposed project has divided Republicans and Democrats for the six years the issue has been before Congress. With the new Republican majority, the House easily passed the Keystone bill in a 270-152 vote with support from 29 Democrats. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 62–36 with support from nine Democrats on January 28. Both the House and Senate votes fell short of the 67 required to overcome a presidential veto.
The strategy of attaching a bill as a rider to another bill that is sure to pass is all too familiar to Indian country. In December, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) attached the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013 to the annual must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, which passed in the Senate by a vote of 89-11 on December 11 and signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 19. The bill gave 2,400 acres of the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s sacred site to a subsidiary of the international mining giant Resolution Copper to excavate the biggest copper mine in the country. Arizona lawmakers had tried unsuccessfully for a decade to pass the unpopular land giveaway but tribal nations and environmentalists vigorously opposed it.
The controversial Keystone XL pipeline is also despised by tribal nations, environmentalists, ranchers and others who have argued for years that the pipeline would cause pollution, contribute to climate change, and could permanently destroy water sources along the way.
But Republicans have framed Keystone as a jobs bill that will bring prosperity to the nation and will not affect the environment or contribute to global climate change despite a recent statement from the Environmental Protection Agency that developing Keystone XL’s oil sands crude would “significantly increase” the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
“President Obama's opposition to the Keystone pipeline and all of its economic benefits shows just how out of touch he is with middle class working families,” Calvert said. “The State Department studied the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline and concluded that it would not have a negative impact. Furthermore, the State Department found that the Keystone XL pipeline project would support roughly 42,000 jobs.”
“Here we go again!” Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) retorted. She was one of several Democrats who took to the House floor to dispute Republican claims about the benefits of the pipeline. “For the 11th time, House Republicans are falsely promoting the idea that Keystone will improve the economy,” Adams said. “They say Keystone will create 42,000 jobs. False! Keystone will create 35 permanent jobs. Republicans say the pipeline will guarantee U.S. energy independence. False! There is no concrete assurance that oil produced by the pipeline will remain in the U.S. Along with these economic shortcomings, U.S. taxpayers will bear 100 percent of the risk if a catastrophic spill occurs. With no real impact on job creation or energy security, this bill is a losing deal for everyone except the foreign company, TransCanada.”
Poking fun at Republicans who have long been climate change deniers, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) congratulated Republicans for passing the bill because it includes an acknowledgment that climate change is real. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) presented the acknowledgment in a two-part amendment during the Senate’s Keystone debate, but Republicans turned down the second part – acknowledging that climate change is caused by human activity.
“By voting for this bill today, you are going to endorse language saying that climate change is real and not a hoax. I think that is tremendous progress for the Republican side of the aisle, who I expect will be supporting this bill to accept the reality of climate change,” DeFazio said. “I am thrilled that that is in there, and their votes will be reflected in the [Congressional]Record as endorsing that language.”