The Senate Just Approved a Pipeline to Nowhere

The Keystone XL project passed the Senate, but is certain to be vetoed by President Obama.

By , a deputy news editor at Foreign Policy.
KXLVOTE
KXLVOTE

The Republican-controlled Senate took a big step toward fulfilling its own political promises, if not toward influencing U.S. energy policy in any way, by approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline by a 62-36 vote Thursday.

The amendment-laden bill will now head back to the House for speedy approval before being sent to President Barack Obama's desk, where it will be promptly vetoed. White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated Thursday that the president will quash the legislation, which is meant as an end run around the executive branch's right to approve transborder energy pipelines. Congress does not have the two-thirds majority needed to overturn the veto.

Keystone, an $8 billion pipeline designed to carry tar sands from Canada down to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, has been a political football since it was first proposed in 2008. The State Department has repeatedly given the infrastructure project a clean bill of health, arguing that its environmental impacts would be minimal, but the Obama administration has so far declined to approve the project. The White House worries that building the pipeline would enable further development of Canadian tar sands; oil sands extraction emits more greenhouse gases than normal crude oil production.

The Republican-controlled Senate took a big step toward fulfilling its own political promises, if not toward influencing U.S. energy policy in any way, by approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline by a 62-36 vote Thursday.

The amendment-laden bill will now head back to the House for speedy approval before being sent to President Barack Obama’s desk, where it will be promptly vetoed. White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated Thursday that the president will quash the legislation, which is meant as an end run around the executive branch’s right to approve transborder energy pipelines. Congress does not have the two-thirds majority needed to overturn the veto.

Keystone, an $8 billion pipeline designed to carry tar sands from Canada down to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, has been a political football since it was first proposed in 2008. The State Department has repeatedly given the infrastructure project a clean bill of health, arguing that its environmental impacts would be minimal, but the Obama administration has so far declined to approve the project. The White House worries that building the pipeline would enable further development of Canadian tar sands; oil sands extraction emits more greenhouse gases than normal crude oil production.

Keystone supporters cheered the political theatrics Thursday and urged the president to sign a bill that would be at odds with his own environmental legacy. “Republicans and Democrats alike on Capitol Hill are speaking in one clear voice saying it’s time to build KXL,” said Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas lobby, in a statement. “We hope the president will seize this opportunity to work collaboratively with Congress to advance sound energy policy while creating thousands of jobs.”

Environmental groups and Democratic critics of the project, for their part, dismissed the Senate vote and urged Obama to make good on his veto threats. Sen. Ed Markey (D.-Mass.) managed to both snort at the Keystone vote and look ahead to Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“Senate Republicans should take a page from Marshawn Lynch’s playbook and just say, ‘You know why I’m here,’ which is to start off their leadership in the Senate with a meaningless tip of their cap to Big Oil,” he said.

While the Senate was voting on a measure to expedite the approval of a pipeline that would increase imports of Canadian crude oil, energy developments in the United States were moving in the exact opposite direction. Thanks to a glut of domestic oil production in recent years from the fracking revolution, oil exports — rather than imports — are the pressing issue for much of the industry and many policymakers.

On Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said that U.S. oil exports reached a record level of more than 500,000 barrels per day in November, surpassing the previous high of 455,000 barrels a day set in 1957. Nearly all of today’s oil exports go to Canada.

MARK WILSON/Getty Images

 

Keith Johnson is a deputy news editor at Foreign Policy.

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