- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Senate upheld President Obama’s first veto of the new Congress on Wednesday, dooming for the foreseeable future any chance of constructing the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada to the U.S.

The vote was seen as a key early test of Democrats’ willingness to defend their lame-duck party leader, and Mr. Obama passed that test easily, with the Senate falling four votes shy of the two-thirds supermajority needed to overturn the veto.

“This is going to come back,” vowed Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of eight Democrats to break with Mr. Obama, who said eventually the U.S. will have to find a way to bring the oil from Alberta’s tar sands into the country, and blocking the pipeline means riskier and costlier options could end up being used.

But options for pipeline backers are limited.

Republican leaders could try to find some other Obama priority to attach Keystone to in future legislation to try to force him to accept the pipeline, but given gridlock and the GOP’s rejection of most of the president’s agenda, opportunities for cooperation are rare.

And Republicans didn’t earn any new support for the pipeline over the last two months, as Mr. Obama and his environmental backers kept their troops in line.

Senators voted from their desks in a sign of the gravity of voting on overturning a veto. But Keystone itself has also taken on a political gravity of its own, far outstripping its actual effects on U.S. gas prices, refinery capacity or greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentalists viewed blocking the pipeline as a key yardstick for whether the U.S. was prepared to move beyond a fossil fuel-based economy.

Liberal lawmakers cheered the vote, saying it was a major step in forcing the U.S. economy to change.

“Climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent. “Our job now is to aggressively transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”

But labor unions and congressional Republicans — forming an unlikely alliance — said it was a test of Mr. Obama’s commitment to American jobs and energy security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the veto was an “extreme mistake.”

For his part, Mr. Obama said his veto wasn’t based on the merits of the project. He said he was asking for more time to study the pipeline and cast his veto as a protest against Congress trying to take the final approval decision away from him.

Keystone backers, though, said Mr. Obama’s delay is designed to kill the pipeline.

“He’s been studying for over six years — over six years — and he vetoed because we cut his review process short?” said Sen. John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican, who was incredulous at the president’s explanation. “When do we in Congress step up and say, you know, we pass the laws? The laws have to be respected.”

The bill had cleared the Senate earlier this year with 62 votes, and then passed the House with 270 votes — both more than enough to pass but still short of the two-thirds to overcome a veto, so Wednesday’s outcome was foreordained.

Senators mustered 62 votes again on Wednesday for an override, with one supporter — Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana — absent. In addition to Mr. Donnelly and Mr. Manchin, the other Democratic supporters were: Sens. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark R. Warner of Virginia.

The pipeline would carry oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in the U.S. Canada has said the oil will be drilled and shipped whether Keystone is built or not, and said other options include sending it to their coast, where it can be shipped to other countries, or sending it by rail to the U.S.

Either way, the oil will reach a market, meaning greenhouse gas will be produced whether the pipeline is built or not, Republicans said. They also say a pipeline is safer and cleaner than using rail.

The bill Mr. Obama vetoed would have cleared away all hurdles and approved the application to build Keystone XL.

Without the bill, the application is still pending at the State Department, which has shown little urgency.

Mr. Obama told the Reuters news organization this week that he will make a decision before his second term ends. His administration’s own studies have concluded the project would be safer than rail and would not contribute significantly to increased greenhouse gas emissions, but environmentalists challenge those studies and have demanded the president nix the project for good.

“The decision on the future Keystone XL is squarely in President Obama’s hands, and we’re counting on him to keep his promise and reject it once and for all,” said Bill Snape at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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