XL Dispute: The last time we reported on the mercurial outlook of the Keystone XL pipeline, the state department had just released an environmental impact statement that assessed the hotly contested pipeline’s impact on climate change.
The January 2014 report was significant because President Barack Obama was awaiting its findings on greenhouse gas emissions before approving the pipeline—a 1,100-mile behemoth slated to carry about 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude per day from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
The 11-volume report stated that extracting the tar sands would increase greenhouse gas emissions, however it also predicted extraction would likely occur at the same rate whether the pipeline was built or not.
Supporters expected the assessment to open the door for approval of the project, based on Obama’s previous comments. Opponents, however, disputed the report’s objectivity and pointed to a pending investigation into an earlier version as reason not to jump to conclusions, the New York Times reported at the time.
In the end, however, the report was one more false peak in a mountain of procrastination on the decision. Since then, Obama said he would wait on the results of a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling on the route the pipeline would take (that decision was handed down on January 9). More recently he has said he’d like to see reviews pending from the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Defense, the Interior, Homeland Security, and Commerce, according to a report in the Times Thursday.
Key Decisions: The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday aimed at trying to get a final answer from Obama, who has ultimate authority because the pipeline crosses international borders.
The bill, which passed 62 to 36, is the latest gauntlet thrown down in a five-year fight that has become less about pipeline concerns and more about political posturing, according to experts.
“The political fight about Keystone is vastly greater than the economic, environmental or energy impact of the pipeline itself,” Robert Stavins, director of the environmental economics program at Harvard, told the Times earlier this month. “It doesn’t make a big difference in energy prices, employment, or climate change either way.”
Piping Down?: The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, which can vote on the measure as it stands or consolidate it with a similar House bill that passed earlier this year. If the bill is consolidated, it will return the House and Senate for vote.
The Whitehouse has indicated on several occasions that the president will veto legislation approving the pipeline. Republicans—even with nine votes from sympathetic Democrats—are currently short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the president’s veto.
Even considering extenuating action by the House and pending federal reviews, it’s possible for the president to decide on the matter as early as February, according to the Thursday Times report. It’s a conclusion everyone in the matter is eager to see reached.
“This issue is ready for a decision,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, told the Times. “After the agencies have weighed in, this issue has been examined enough, and the president has everything he needs to make this decision.”