The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to follow the House in authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Amendments remain to be worked out with the House, but a compromise version is expected to reach President Obama’s desk as soon as next week.
And Obama, who has appealed to Republicans to work with him — including on infrastructure, beyond this one pipeline — has vowed to veto the bill.
So much for bipartisanship.
If the president is truly sincere about getting things done with the new GOP Congress, and not just looking for political fights to pick, he should rescind his veto threat and sign the Keystone bill.
Keystone would carry oil extracted from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to existing U.S. pipelines that connect with Gulf Coast refineries. In the six years the project has waited for federal approval, both its environmental and economic impacts have been overblown by opponents and supporters, respectively.
For opponents, a vote for Keystone has become a symbol of indifference to climate change. But a year ago, Obama’s State Department concluded the pipeline would have a minimal impact on greenhouse-gas emissions because blocking it would not stop the tar-sands oil from being extracted.
For supporters, a vote against Keystone has become a symbol of indifference to the economy. But while up to 42,000 jobs would be supported during its construction, only 35 would be sustained afterward, according to the State Department.
The worldwide crash in petroleum prices might, for now, scale back the relatively expensive process of extracting crude from the tar sands, and diminish the need for a new pipeline. But history shows prices can rebound in a hurry.
After three weeks of debate, the Keystone bill passed the Senate 62-36 on Thursday, with nine Democrats joining a unanimous Republican caucus. In the House, the bill won support from 28 Democrats, including freshman Gwen Graham of Tallahassee. Graham is the daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, who remains an outspoken advocate for the environment. After her vote, the younger Graham reiterated the need for both parties to protect natural resources.
While Keystone foes have warned of spills from the 1,200-mile pipeline, there are more than 150,000 miles of pipeline crisscrossing this nation. A new one should be safer than the old ones. And the alternative of transporting oil by rail is more risky and less efficient.
Besides, as a staunch U.S. ally, Canada contrasts sharply with other unfriendly oil suppliers such as Venezuela. Canada’s pleas for Keystone’s approval should carry weight with the president.
Obama’s objections are understandable, but not persuasive. He has said his office holds sole authority to make decisions about a pipeline that crosses international borders and that before making up his mind, he wants to see a review of all the processes, which has turned into a six-year stalling tactic. After an environmental review by the State Department last year said the pipeline would not significantly worsen pollution, for example, Obama said he then wanted to await the appeal of a Nebraska court case over the pipeline’s route.
This issue is ready for a decision, which should be thumbs-up.
As the Senate’s principle sponsor, John Hoeven, R- North Dakota, said Thursday: “You’ve got Congress approving it on a bipartisan basis. All six states on the route have approved it. The Nebraska court decision is done. The American people overwhelming support it. The president has to consider all that when he makes his decision.”
We share environmentalists’ concern about climate change and are frustrated that Congress refuses to act on it. But for the president to build any bipartisan support for curbing power-plant emissions, on this issue he should listen to Congress and stand back from his promised veto.
A reversal on Keystone could set the tone for a more productive relationship with Capitol Hill, a posture that would benefit us all.
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