Obama’s Keystone veto: First step in a long journey


It doesn’t happen every day, but environmentalists got a rare dollop of good news this week. For months, supporters had been urging the president to veto any bill from the Republican-led Congress that would seek to mandate the Keystone XL pipeline, the project that would carry millions of barrels of dirty Canadian tar sands oil across the American heartland to facilities on the Gulf Coast. It’s a proposal that would allow a foreign corporation to seize private property here in the U.S.. while saddling American neighbors with all the risks. It’s a very bad idea.

When such a measure did finally win congressional approval, Obama finally did use his veto pen, in a matter of hours. It was only the third time in more than six years as president that he’s nixed legislation sent over from Capitol Hill, and it seems extremely unlikely that the GOP will have the votes to override it. It was an exciting moment for environmentalists. Here is what Obama said in his message:

 “The presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously,” Obama said in his veto message to the Senate. “But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.”

Personally, I was delighted to see this step — but yet I also wanted much, much more. The only grounds that President Obama cited in this veto were procedural ones: That Congress was overstepping its authority by interfering with an ongoing review of the Keystone XL project by the State Department. There were no words of rejection aimed at the many actual flaws of the proposed pipeline — the unwarranted taking of American land, the risk of a massive spill that could pollute a key aquifer in the Midwest, or, most importantly, the fact that bringing so many tons of tar sands oil to the world market will cause a significant rise in the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Indeed, there is some thought that Obama sees Keystone more as a political bargaining chip, that he’s still willing to sign off on the pipeline if he can get concessions in other areas that might help curb pollution. Here’s one possible example that’s making the rounds:

(Bloomberg) — U.S. climate negotiators have told their Canadian counterparts that Canada’s plan to cut carbon emissions could be one of the factors that President Barack Obama weighs as he considers whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a U.S. official said.

The U.S. hasn’t suggested it might approve the $8 billion proposed project in exchange for climate commitments, the official said. Canada is developing a proposal as part of United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at cutting carbon emissions that governments were encouraged to submit by next month.

There’s also been a suggestion that allowing the Keystone project could be part of a “grand bargain” between the White House and the Republicans in Congress. Either way, these are bad ideas in my opinion. Climate change poses a risk to the very future of the planet, and it’s not a political bargaining chip. What’s more, the world is looking to Obama for leadership, to convince a wavering public that the threat from global warming is real and requires immediate action. It’s very good that the president rejected the Keystone bill on procedural grounds. But the next time around, he needs to take action on moral grounds. He needs to kill this pipeline for good.

To learn more about President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline bill, please read: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/02/24/obama-keystone-veto/23879735/

For more information on a possible deal with Canada over the pipeline, check out: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-25/u-s-said-to-tell-canada-its-climate-goal-may-play-keystone-role

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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