The Raging Debate Over the Keystone XL Pipeline

Alessandra Bonafide ’16 – Inside Politics Program

In Elana Schor’s article titled President Obama Vetoes Keystone XL; GOP Plans to Override Veto, she discusses Obama’s vetoing of the Keystone XL pipeline bill. In National Geographic Magazine, Wendy Koch expanded on this topic in her article Two Reasons Why Obama’s Keystone Veto Won’t Decide Pipeline, which explains how despite Obama’s veto, issues and obstacles concerning the project still exist. The Keystone XL project was first proposed by TransCanada in 2008 and the bill initially passed by Congress on February 11, 2015.

Schor discusses the opinions and arguments of President Obama, the GOP, and Canada. Obama mentions that his motivation behind vetoing the bill was for the welfare of the nation. Nonetheless, the GOP plans on overriding the veto. The GOP will attempt to override the bill because Obama’s decision would deprive the United States and its citizens of thousands of construction jobs. In addition, according to Senate Energy and Natural Resources, chairwoman Lisa Murkowski said “the president is missing an opportunity when it comes to jobs and North American energy independence.” However, Schor doubts that the GOP will be successful in their efforts. As for Canada, it is still fully committed to the project as they assert that the question is not if the project will eventually follow through but simply a matter of when.

Schor presents both sides of the argument for the project as she mentions how Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, revealed statistics showing how pipelines are a safer way to transport oil than rail, barge or truck. On the other hand, Senator Ed Markey simply states that the project is a dangerous proposition and bad deal for the nation. Greg Rickford, Canadian Natural Resources Minister, did make a particularly interesting and powerful point about how “this is not a debate between Canada and the U.S.; it’s a debate between the President and the American people, who are supportive of the project.” As with many political or policy related decisions, the fate and ultimate success of decisions made by the government and specifically the President depends on how the people perceive, receive, and react to the issue at hand.

The day before the bill was vetoed, Wendy Koch explains the problems that will undoubtedly follow, such as challenges involving Nebraska and South Dakota. Specifically, TransCanada does not have approval to establish a route through Nebraska and it does not have a usable construction permit in South Dakota. Furthermore, Koch discusses how the pipeline has become emblematic of the debate regarding jobs versus the environment. Those in favor of the Keystone project argue that it will provide numerous jobs and guarantee energy security, as it will ensure the delivery of Canadian oil to the United States. On the other hand, those against the project believe that it will further the development of Alberta’s oil sands, resulting in other environmental issues including the increased emission of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and thereby amplifying global warming.

Overall, the true motivation and reasoning behind Obama’s veto remains in question. Schor suggests that Obama’s rejection of the bill is a reflection of his concern and responsibility to the nation and its people. However, Koch gives Obama more credit by offering the possibility that this veto acts as a testament to the Presidents commitment to the environment. There are other more cynical standpoints that would claim that Obama vetoed the bill because he wants to retain his power to make the Keystone decision himself. Instead, Senator Ed Markey suggested and appealed to Obama to follow the veto with a complete rejection of Keystone once and for all. Thus, the inevitable multi-faceted tug of war regarding the Keystone project naturally remains, which is between jobs and the environment, the government and the people, and Obama and the GOP.