For the eleventh time, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL. For the first time, it is being delivered to President Obama’s desk.
Will Obama veto the Keystone XL? It would be only the third veto of his career, yet the White House has publicly stated that the President has no intention of signing it. In early January, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said as much, adding, “The President has been pretty clear that he does not think circumventing a well-established process for evaluating these projects is the right thing for Congress.”
Earnest was referring to the State Department’s evaluation of whether or not the project is in the country’s national interest.
Republicans certainly think the pipeline is what’s best for America. Their arguments invariable focus on the supposed fact that it will create 42,000 American jobs. This, however, is not entirely accurate. KXL proponents derive this figure from a State Department report – and like to mention that fact as well – but they neglect to mention that the same report states that most of these jobs will exist for four- to eight-month periods. The majority of them will be seasonal and construction-related.
In the end, this $7.6 billion, 1,700 mile pipeline will require about 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.
And at what cost? The pipeline will transport about 830,000 barrels of ultra-heavy crude oil over the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underwater resource for eight states. The crude that comes from the Alberta oil fields is not like the stuff that leaked from the Exxon Valdez or the Deepwater Horizon; it will not float on water. Known as oil sands or tar sands, the crude mined from Alberta will sink right down.
In an interview with Planet Experts, Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer whose land is on the planned final route of the KXL, explained why he and others in the area are fighting against its construction:
“My irrigation well’s 120 feet deep. So, any type of leak in that pipeline, whether it be a crack or seep or a full-blown break, that thing is gonna leak. The chemicals and the tar sands will work down through the soil into that water and contaminate the Ogallala aquifer. […] It’s the water we drink, it’s the water that feeds the livestock, it’s the water that irrigates the crops. That water is everything to us here.”
And the KXL poses not only a threat to water but to the air. Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency warned the State Department that the pipeline would lead to the equivalent of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year – comparable to the emissions of six million passenger vehicles.
The KXL has almost unanimous support amongst Congressional Republicans, save one. Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) voted no on the final KXL vote.
As he stated on his Facebook after the vote, his reason has to do with what he sees as a bad precedent for corporate exemption. “The latest #KXL bill combines the cronyism of previous bills—specially exempting one private company from the laws and regulations that apply to all other companies—with new, unrelated sections empowering the EPA and the federal government with respect to local energy efficiency,” he wrote.
Amash’s objection to the legislation betrays a nuance seldom expressed in public policy criticism, and he has expounded on such nuance before. In a Facebook post dated June 8, 2013, Amash explained why he voted “present” on the Northern Route Approval Act. “The Keystone XL pipeline is a private project owned by TransCanada Corporation,” he wrote. “This bill improperly exempts TransCanada Corporation—and no other company—from laws that require pipeline owners and operators to obtain certain government permits and approvals.”
Amash goes on to say that he supports construction of the KXL and that delaying it for over four years “for political reasons” is wrong. However, he writes that it is improper “for Congress to write a bill that names and benefits one private project, while doing nothing to address the underlying problems that allowed such delays to occur.” It is improper due to Congress’s constitutional authority “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations” but only when legislation is “of general, not specific, applicability.”
Basically, the KXL would have Amash’s vote if the project was subjected to the usual regulations and review that are supposed to apply to private projects. The New Republic notes that this is the same reason White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama would veto the legislation. Congress is trying to approve it ahead of the State Department’s review.
“This Keystone project is undergoing review at the State Department,” Schultz said in January. “That is a process that long predates this administration. So we are opposed to any legislative maneuver that would circumvent that process.”
For more details on the KXL, Planet Experts recommends this selection of featured articles:
- From Oil Sands to Farmland: Art Tanderup vs. the Keystone XL – In November 2014, Planet Experts’ editor-in-chief Pierce Nahigyan spoke to Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer who is fighting the pipeline’s proposed route through his land. This in-depth article covers the history of the KXL, the composition of oil sands and the movements opposed to its construction.
- The Keystone XL Is Still an Ecological Threat – Planet Experts’ reporter Peter Rugh discusses the ecological, economic and political forces that have shaped the KXL into the divisive issue it is today.
- How Many Permanent Jobs Will the Keystone XL Actually Create? About 50. – Proponents of the KXL often claim that it will create 42,000 American jobs. However, the long-term job creation of the pipeline is much more modest. According to the State Department, the KXL will only create permanent positions for 35 employees and 15 contractors.
- Senate Votes 98-1 That Climate Change Is Real, but Won’t Say Humans Are to Blame – In an effort to derail the KXL bill, Democrats attempted to add riders to the legislation that forced Republicans to acknowledge man-made climate change. They were not successful.