President Obama is under fresh fire from both sides of the Keystone XL pipeline debate after a Nebraska court last week eliminated a major legal obstacle and once again put the project’s fate in the hands of the White House.
Supporters of the pipeline — including lawmakers of both parties, business, labor, the Canadian government and others — and opponents each say now is the time for the president to decide whether to approve or reject Keystone, which has languished in federal bureaucracy for the past six years.
As legislation to approve the pipeline moves ahead on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama now has lost one of his main reasons for delaying a decision on the oil sands project. The White House had maintained it was waiting for the resolution of a Nebraska lawsuit challenging the pipeline’s route through the state.
The state’s Supreme Court on Friday tossed that case and upheld Keystone’s proposed path. The court did not decide on the merits of the case — whether Dave Heineman, a Republican who was Nebraska governor at the time, and the state Legislature overstepped their constitutional bounds by expediting the pipeline approval process — but ruled that Nebraska landowners did not have legal standing to challenge the pipeline.
With that high-stakes case dismissed, the spotlight is back on Mr. Obama, and each side of the Keystone argument will be watching the president’s every move.
“When you take a punch, you stand up and keep on fighting. We continue to stand with President Obama in his skepticism of the export pipeline and encourage him to reject Keystone XL now,” said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, a leading pipeline opposition group. “The only decision that will bring peace of mind to landowners is watching the president use the power of the pen to stop this risky pipeline once and for all.”
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Mr. Obama had cited the Nebraska case as the central reason why he intends to veto legislation approving the pipeline. That legislation cleared the House last week and could pass the Senate as soon as Monday.
But even with the legal issues out of the way, the president appears unprepared to make a decision in the immediate future.
The State Department has not issued a final recommendation on whether Keystone is in the national interest of the U.S. The department suspended all reviews of the project last year when the Nebraska lawsuit was filed.
The White House now says Mr. Obama will wait for State to finish its work and is keeping his veto pen ready.
“Our posture and our position hasn’t changed. This is a process that is still underway at the State Department,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Friday. “I don’t have any updates for you on that process. As you know, it’s undergoing rigorous review [at the State Department] and we’re going to wait for that review to be concluded before the president makes any decisions.”
The administration has given no estimates on when the State Department might finish its final review. State’s previous reports on Keystone have found that the project will not significantly increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and will create more than 40,000 jobs.
Supporters of the project, including traditional Democratic Party allies in organized labor, have grown frustrated with the White House’s excuses and seemingly endless delays.
“The president should immediately resume the national interest determination that he needlessly suspended last year, and Democrats in Congress must stop all the excuses and end the shameful politics used to block Keystone. They should join in a bipartisan manner to approve the project and create jobs,” said Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “It’s time to move forward to unlock energy and good construction careers.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed by energy industry groups and even the Canadian government, which last week challenged Mr. Obama by pointing out that a vast majority of Americans support Keystone.
Polls consistently have shown strong support for the project.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama is facing renewed pressure from Congress, and some backers of the project believe they ultimately may have enough votes to override a presidential veto.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican and one of the most outspoken Keystone supporters, said the Senate has 63 votes in favor of the project.
It takes 67 votes to override a presidential veto, but Mr. Hoeven believes that number can be reached through an open amendment process on the Senate floor this week.
He also raised the idea of attaching Keystone to other legislation that the president might support.
“We’re going to the floor with an open amendment process, trying to foster more bipartisanship so that we can pass this measure and other measures and either override the veto or attach the bill to other legislation that will get 67 votes,” he said.