- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2015

President Obama’s vow to veto legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t mean he couldn’t eventually sign it, especially if Congress couples it with reforms the White House wants, analysts say.

Administration officials have described Mr. Obama’s veto threat — which some senators now say they can override — as a matter of procedure rather than one on the merits of the pipeline itself. The White House says it objects to a push for the pipeline before all appropriate federal reviews are completed and while a court case challenging Keystone’s proposed route through Nebraska is unresolved.

Analysts say Mr. Obama would be open to the pipeline as part of a larger package and is threatening a veto only to satisfy Democrats in Congress and allies in the environmental community.

If the White House wins major concessions on other matters, the president could approve Keystone and save face, said Brigham McCown, a former administrator of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“If the ultimate goal is to get Keystone approved, Keystone has to be part of a greater discussion, a greater legislative package, not a stand-alone vote,” he said. “The Republicans ultimately are going to have to negotiate Keystone with something else in order to get the president to sign off.”

The White House hasn’t ruled out a larger package that includes the approval of Keystone, which would transport crude from the oil sands of Alberta through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline requires presidential approval because it crosses an international boundary.

Asked Tuesday about the possibility of a broad package including Keystone, White House press secretary Josh Earnest skirted the issue.

“I haven’t heard any Republicans float that as a possible measure, so I think I’d withhold judgment on that,” he said. “But I think the president has been pretty clear that he does not think that circumventing a well-established process for evaluating these projects is the right thing for Congress to do.”

The White House says any decision on Keystone should wait until the Nebraska Supreme Court decides whether the pipeline has a legal route through the state, a ruling that could come as soon as Friday. The State Department also has not issued a final recommendation on whether Keystone is in the national interest. That process is on hold until after the Nebraska decision.

State Department environmental reviews have found that the pipeline will create more than 40,000 jobs and won’t significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. Canada has said it will mine the sands and sell the oil, even if it is not to the U.S.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are disregarding Mr. Obama’s veto threat and advancing legislation to approve the project. The bill cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a 13-9 vote Thursday, and the House is expected to take it up Friday.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat and the only member of his party to support the bill during Thursday’s committee vote, said the Senate may be able to override the president’s veto if senators are allowed to offer amendments and the final bill reflects bipartisan compromise.

“We could have a good piece of legislation that we could have 67, 70, 75 votes on — a good product when we get done,” Mr. Manchin said.

It takes 67 Senate votes to override a presidential veto.

But other Democrats are poised to stand in the way. On Thursday afternoon, they launched their first filibuster of the 114th Congress and tried to block the Republican attempt to bring the Keystone legislation to the Senate floor by early next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, vowed to “work through this” and move the bill forward despite intense resistance from Democrats who say the pipeline will accelerate climate change and wreck the planet.

“I have a feeling this particular issue, the Keystone pipeline, is not going to be forgotten,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “It is not going to be forgotten by history. Because I have a feeling our kids and our grandchildren, 20, 30, 40 years from now, they’re going to be asking us ‘What were you guys thinking? What were you doing? Did you not hear what the scientific community all over the world was saying?’”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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