The Threatened Keystone XL Veto

Mark Green (Cross Posted From Energy Tomorrow)

The White House’s newly issued Statement of Administration Policy, announcing that President Obama would veto current, bipartisan congressional legislation to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline does a couple of things.

First, it announces that the new era of cooperation between the president and the new Congress on issues that have consensus support – supposedly the mandate from voters in last fall’s elections – might be over before it starts.

Second, and no less serious, it shows that President Obama doesn’t listen – doesn’t listen to the American people, who broadly support the multi-billion-dollar, privately financed infrastructure that the president’s own State Department says would support more than 42,000 U.S. jobs during construction, generate $2 billion in workers’ earnings and add $3.4 billion to the economy.

Wrangling inside the Beltway isn’t new; Americans are used to that. But a president who stubbornly dismisses broad public opinion, as Mr. Obama is doing on Keystone XL, is concerning on a different level. API President and CEO Jack Gerard, talking to reporters at this week’s State of American Energy event:

“… you have (legislation) that essentially has 63 members of the Senate saying we’re for it, and so I believe the leadership in the House and Senate are following the will of the American people, where 72 percent of the public said we support building the Keystone XL pipeline. I’m disappointed the president has made that decision. I’m hopeful he or his advisors will eventually reconsider because by their own estimates it creates 42,000 American jobs. These are good jobs, well-paying jobs, in a time when we need them most.”

The president’s Keystone XL veto threat comes after more than six years of delay by his administration – six years! – rendering absurd the White House policy statement’s claim that congressional action would “cut short consideration of important issues relevant to the national interest” and “prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues.”

The fact is a long, long process to examine the Keystone XL already has occurred. It’s at 76 months and counting – and the project has passed the safety and environmental test with flying colors. Nothing has been cut short. The idea that the White House needs more time for thorough consideration of Keystone XL is an old punch line in a tired gag on the American people.

The project’s economic value and job-generating ability are clear, and its value to American energy security is obvious. It has cleared five State Department environmental reviews. And, as the White House well knows, all previous international cross-border pipelines have been approved, and all of them have gained that approval in 18 to 24 months.

The fundamental point is that the president won’t listen – not to the experts, not to the American people. And, with this week’s veto threat, it’s clear he has no plans to listen to their elected representatives in Congress. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner:

“His answer is no to more American infrastructure, no to more American energy, and no to more American jobs.  Fringe extremists in the president’s party are the only ones who oppose Keystone, but the president has chosen to side with them instead of the American people and the government’s own scientific evidence that this project is safe for the environment.  This is simply another sign that President Obama is hopelessly out of touch and has no plans to listen to the American people or champion their priorities.”

The president is dismissive of Keystone XL’s ability to generate jobs, calling them “temporary.” Working men and women in the building construction trades strenuously disagree. He regularly calls for investment in infrastructure but refuses to connect Keystone XL with the benefits of infrastructure spending. That’s unfortunate. Keystone XL is a great example of the kind of energy infrastructure investment that potentially could add more than $1 trillion to our economy over the next decade. Gerard:

“As a nation … we always focus on (a) highway bill as a major jobs creator/infrastructure spend, which it is. But if you look at the potential private investment from the oil and natural gas industry, over the next decade reports say we could spend as much as $1.15 trillion in infrastructure build. Private-sector dollars, capital investment, combined with what we’re doing on public projects like infrastructure highway builds, this is a great opportunity for the country. … We do believe we should look at infrastructure beyond the historic ways of viewing it as bridges and roads and say to ourselves, what about pipeline, what about rail build-out? What about that other infrastructure necessary to make our market more efficient as an energy producer, an energy superpower?”

Circling back to the White House veto threat, a final point. The statement argues congressional action on Keystone XL would conflict with the authority of the president. The short answer is that Congress has authority to address pipeline border crossings. Long version: See this great report from the Congressional Research Service.  Medium version:

A history of legislation related to border crossing facilities further suggests that congressional action related to permitting of pipeline border crossings is a legitimate exercise of Congress’s authority to regulate foreign commerce… The executive’s ability to act in this area, however, is informed by the previous lack of federal legislation in this area. The absence of legislation up to this point may have “enable[d], if not invite[d], measures on independent presidential responsibility” in which the President has acted in the “absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority.” However, if Congress chose to assert its authority in the area of border crossing facilities, this would likely be considered within its constitutionally enumerated authority to regulate foreign commerce.

It’s unfortunate that Keystone XL remains on hold, and with it jobs, more energy and greater energy security for the United States. The president’s veto threat, after all this time, is more disappointing than surprising. But it’s also illuminating. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial:

Congress is finally acting in bipartisan fashion because Mr. Obama has delayed his Keystone decision for six years. Members of both parties should move ahead despite the veto threat and call his bluff. At least the country will see who is the real obstacle to faster growth and job creation.

About The Author

Mark Green joins API after spending 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington Bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper. In all, he has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including six years as sports editor at The Washington Times. He lives in Occoquan, Virginia, with his wife Pamela. Mark graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and earned a masters in journalism and public affairs at American University. He’s currently working on a masters in history at George Mason University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.

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