By: Les Whittington Ottawa Bureau reporter, Published on Tue Jan 06 2015, The Toronto Star.com, January 6th 2015
Republicans, who gained control of both houses of the U.S. Congress in recent mid-term elections, have made getting approval of the pipeline to carry oilsands crude from Alberta to the U.S. their first order of business this year.
Obama has regularly expressed doubts about the value of Keystone for Americans but Tuesday’s comment by a White House spokesperson was the most explicit indication yet that the president has no intention of allowing Congress to push through approval of the pipeline.
“I can confirm for you that if this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it either,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. He noted Obama had suggested last year that similar legislation then proposed by members of Congress was unlikely to escape a presidential veto.
“And that’s because there is already a well-established process in place to consider whether or not infrastructure projects like this are in the best interests of the country,” Earnest said, referring to the examination of Keystone that had been underway for years in the U.S. State Department. It has jurisdiction over the pipeline application because it would cross from Canada into the U.S.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been pushing the Obama administration to approve Keystone, which is crucial to the Conservatives’ economic strategy of increasing exports of oil and natural gas. The proposed $8-billion project by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. has been in the vetting process in the U.S. for more than six years.
The lack of a go-ahead for Keystone, which Harper once said should be a “no-brainer” for the Obama administration, has led a cooling of bilateral relations.
While the Harper government and other Keystone proponents say it will create jobs and contribute to U.S. energy security, the pipeline has become a battleground in the politics of climate change, with environmentalists and many Democrats maintaining the project will drive up carbon emissions.
“We want to congratulate the president on indicating that he will veto a Keystone bill that would lock Canada and the U.S. into a high-cost, highly polluting energy source for decades to come,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada.
TransCanada president Russ Girling disputed Earnest’s statement that Keystone was being vetted in a “well-established process.”
“TransCanada has patiently and diligently worked since 2008 complying with every twist and turn in this unparalleled process. We have done this to ensure Keystone XL is built and operated safely and the State Department has concluded time and again this can be done,” Girling said.
The White House’s advance thumbs down on Keystone legislation is only the first salvo in a standoff between Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress. If a Keystone approval bill is vetoed by Obama, Republicans are likely to respond by attaching pipeline authorization riders to other legislation — such as government spending measures — that the president would have trouble blocking.
“Our position on Keystone remains the same: We believe the project should be approved,” said Jason MacDonald, the prime minister’s spokesperson. “It will create jobs for American and Canadian workers, it has the support of the Canadian and American people, and the State Department itself has indicated it can be developed in an environmentally sustainable manner.”