(Bloomberg) — Congressional Republicans achieved an
elusive legislative goal Wednesday, sending a bill to approve
the Keystone XL pipeline to President Barack Obama.
Yet after three years of effort, the victory is somewhat
hollow as falling oil prices and an improving job market
conspire to weaken any practical or political payoffs.
The U.S. House passed the measure 270-152, with 29
Democrats joining all but one Republican to support the bill.
Obama has vowed to veto the measure and Wednesday’s vote was
short of the two-thirds super majority needed to override the
president’s rejection. The Senate passed the bill last month.
Obama said he opposes the bill because it would circumvent
his administration’s review of the $8 billion pipeline.
“This allegedly important policy issue has become almost
nothing but politics, save for those who build and operate it,
on both sides,” said Burdett Loomis, a political science
professor at the University of Kansas who tracks energy issues.
“It’s policy significance comes close to nil, especially in our
current oil environment.”
TransCanada Corp., a Calgary-based pipeline company,
applied to build Keystone XL in September 2008. While a southern
section is up and running, the northern leg needs a presidential
permit because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.
The project, in limbo during a State Department review, has
galvanized environmental advocates and led to massive rallies
around the White House urging Obama to reject the pipeline as a
threat to the climate.
Supporters say it will create thousands of jobs and improve
U.S. energy security.
“We continue to urge the president to reconsider his veto
threat, support the will of the people and prove that Washington
can govern and enact meaningful energy policy,” Jack Gerard,
president and chief executive officer of the American Petroleum
Institute, a Washington lobbying group whose members include
ExxonMobil Corp., said in a statement.
Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during debate that he
hoped Obama would reconsider his expected veto on this bill.
“Let’s deal with the issue,” Upton said. “And let’s get
The House vote was the chamber’s 11th on Keystone
legislation in four years, and the second this year. House
lawmakers had to take up the bill again after the Senate, which
is now also led by Republicans, amended an earlier version.
House Speaker John Boehner is planning a signing ceremony
on Friday, said Michael Steel, his spokesman. Republican Senator
Orrin Hatch of Utah, as president pro tempore, will also sign.
How soon the bill will be sent to the White House hadn’t been
decided as of Wednesday, Steel said.
The Constitution provides 10 days, excluding Sundays, for a
president to sign a bill. A veto occurs when a president returns
the unsigned legislation within 10 days to the chamber in which
it originated, typically with a message explaining why.
While Obama pledged to veto the Keystone bill on process
grounds, he hasn’t indicated what his decision will be on the
He must choose between angering his allies in the
environmental movement or the Canadian government, which is
looking to Keystone to support oil sands producers in Alberta.
Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and a member
of the energy committee, backed the vote on Keystone.
“It’s good public policy,” even if Obama is going to
reject the bill, Barton said in a phone interview before the
vote. “It shows how rigidly he’s in the clutches of radical
environmental groups that he keeps opposing it.”
The dynamics of the debate have shifted considerably since
July 2011 when the House first voted to advance Keystone.
Back then, oil traded about $100 a barrel and Obama faced a
tough re-election in an economy yet to fully shake the effects
of a deep recession.
Now oil is half that cost, about $50 a barrel, and Obama is
two years into his second term. Unemployment fell to 5.7 percent
in January from 9.1 percent in July 2011.
Polls show Americans supporting the pipeline outnumber
those who oppose it, though the political payoff for Republicans
in backing it probably is small.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll last month found 34 percent
of respondents wanted the pipeline built now, while 61 percent
said the review should continue. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News
poll found 41 percent favored the project.
More than a third — 37 percent — said they didn’t know
enough to have an opinion.
Obama has said he won’t approve the project if he believes
it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon
He also criticized Republican arguments that the pipeline
would provide much economic benefits to Americans, arguing the
oil would likely be sold overseas after reaching refiners in the
Republicans have once before advanced to Obama’s desk
legislation on Keystone.
Late in 2011, when the Keystone review was in its third
year, as part of a broader tax bill they set a 60-day deadline
for Obama to make a decision. In January 2012, he rejected the
project saying the administration couldn’t adequately weigh its
merits by the Congress-imposed deadline.
He also encouraged TransCanada to reapply, which it did in
splitting the project and shifting a route further east in
Nebraska in an effort to resolve concerns about Keystone’s
potential threat to a sensitive habitat.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Jim Snyder in Washington at
Billy House in Washington at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jodi Schneider at
Jon Morgan at
Steve Geimann, Jon Morgan