Obama to veto Keystone XL pipeline, but is the battle over?

CC BY 3.0 Brylie Oxley

Today, President Obama is expected to veto a bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Canada’s tar sands through the United States to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline has been the source of much controversy since it was proposed in 2012.

Although many environmental groups are cheering for the veto, the move won’t be the end of the pipeline. There are a number of reasons the fight for Keystone XL is likely to drag on.

One reason why the White House objects to the bill is that it’s an attempt to override the State Department’s approval process. The state department is tasked with reviewing the plans to construct the pipeline, because it crosses the border between Canada and the United States, and Obama isn’t too keen on seeing Congress interfere. “The president has been pretty clear that he does not think circumventing a well-established process for evaluating these projects is the right thing for Congress to do,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in January.

Yet the State Department has put its decision on hold since April, as it waits to see how legal challenges to the pipeline’s route will be resolved in Nebraska. TransCanada wants to use eminent domain to force Nebraska landowners along the route to sell, and unsurprisingly there’s been legal pushback. The state’s supreme court will rule on the case, however, that may be a long time coming. One anti-XL activist told National Geographic that it may take one or two years before the court hears the case. There are also ongoing legal battles in North Dakota.

In theory, it’s also possible for Keystone to rise from the dead in future energy bills, but Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, who is drafting an energy bill, said it’s unlikely to include the pipeline. “The right answer is probably, 'I don't know,' but I would say probably not," Upton told the Washington Examiner. "We're not going to keep banging our head against the wall."

Yet, some political observers are more hopeful. Over at Politico, Elana Schor lays out five possible ways the Keystone battle could end. One version, admittedly an unlikely one, is that Obama could speed up the State Department process and make a big statement about his position on climate change in a final “one-two punch.”

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