White House: Obama won’t sign bill approving Keystone XL

The White House signaled that US President Barack Obama will not sign a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline if one reaches his desk. “I would not anticipate the president would sign this piece of legislation,” Press Sec. Josh Earnest said during the regular daily briefing.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, moved to slow down Republicans’ plans to approve such a measure quickly. Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), acting on behalf of an unnamed Democratic senator or senators, objected to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holding a hearing on a bill approving the project on Jan. 7.

“While this means we won’t be having a hearing tomorrow, it does not slow down the Keystone XL floor process,” a spokesman for the committee’s majority leadership said. He noted that Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill to approve the pipeline with 60 cosponsors on Jan. 6, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) started the process for its consideration under regular rules of order.

Obama’s veto threat was not surprising, Hoeven said later. “He has held the Keystone XL pipeline project up for 6 years with endless bureaucratic delays—his strategy has been defeat through delay,” the Energy and Natural Resources Committee member maintained. “That’s unfortunate, because the Keystone XL pipeline should be approved on its merits.”

Manchin, who also is on the committee, said, “His decision to veto such a commonsense bill prior to the unfolding of regular congressional order and the offering of amendments appears premature and does little to mitigate the congressional gridlock.”

Veto threat ‘disappointing’

US Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who introduced a Keystone XL approval bill on which the full House is expected to vote on Jan. 9, called Obama’s veto threat “disappointing,” given “the broad, bipartisan majorities Keystone XL approval legislation is likely to receive in both chambers of Congress this week.” He said, “It is time for the president to stop putting the interests of his environmental extremist friends above those of the American people.”

Earnest said the US Department of State’s review process of TransCanada Corp.’s crossborder permit application for the project was well-established. TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling responded that it is anything but that.

“For decades, the normal process to review and make a decision on an infrastructure project like Keystone took 2 years,” Girling said. “The review for our base Keystone pipeline took exactly this long just a few years ago. We are well over the 6-year mark reviewing the final phase of Keystone with seemingly no end in sight. The bar continues to move again and again.”

Speaking to reporters after delivering his 2015 State of American Energy address, American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said the White House’s announcement was unfortunate. “It does not bode well for relations between the new Congress and the administration,” he said. “I hope the president and his advisors will reconsider their action.”

At least two members of the 114th Congress who voted against bills approving the project in 2014 have expressed frustration with Obama’s unwillingness to make a decision, Gerard said. “There are lots of ways to get something done in Washington. I’m hoping cooler heads will prevail, and we don’t reach a point where a veto-proof majority becomes necessary,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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