WASHINGTON — Congressional champions of Keystone XL failed Wednesday to override President Barack Obama’s veto of legislation that would authorize the pipeline.
Keystone’s supporters fell short of the 66 votes they needed in the Senate to override the veto — an outcome that was expected well before the proceedings were underway. The underlying legislation only won 62 “aye” votes when the Senate passed the measure in January.
On Wednesday, the override effort failed on a vote of 62-37. A two-thirds supermajority — in this case, 66 votes — was required.
The legislation would have immediately permitted the TransCanada Corp. pipeline, six years after the Calgary-based company first asked U.S. regulators for permission to build it.
But in vetoing the legislation last month, Obama said it would unfairly “circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.”
A 2004 executive order tasks the State Department with deciding whether border-crossing pipelines such as Keystone XL are in the national interest, a review that wraps in environmental, economic and national security factors. There is no deadline for finishing that analysis, though the State Department recently secured advice from other federal agencies and appears to be approaching a final decision.
Obama has signaled he will decide on Keystone before he leaves the White House in January 2017. “I think it will happen before the end of my administration,” Obama said in an interview with Reuters this week.
Supporters of the $8 billion TransCanada Corp. project say they will not stop fighting for the pipeline. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who sponsored the vetoed bill, has suggested adding Keystone-approving language to “must pass” legislation funding parts of the federal government.
Keystone advocates say the project would deepen the United States’ energy ties with a friendly ally, support American jobs and provide a reliable supply of heavy crude to Gulf Coast refineries.
Critics say the pipeline would unleash the development of Canada’s oil sands, by giving the bitumen extracted in Alberta a cheaper, easier route to Gulf Coast refineries, instead of more costly rail transport. Because the bitumen is typically extracted through open-pit mining and energy-intensive steam-assisted techniques, environmentalists say it produces more carbon dioxide emissions over its entire life cycle, from production to eventual combustion.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted Wednesday that the environmental opposition to Keystone XL is overblown.
“The implication that building Keystone would result in some sort of apocalyptic cataclysm has always flown in the face of science,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor. “The reality is that the energy resources in question are almost certainly coming out of the ground whether Keystone is built or not.”
McConnell blamed “deep-pocketed leftists and extremists” for the campaign against Keystone.
And Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, stressed that Keystone would join “roughly 2.5 million miles of pipelines” that already crisscross the United States.
“It’s like a spaghetti bowl because they are everywhere,” he said. “This is the most efficient and safest way to transport natural gas and crude.”
But Senate Democrats said the fight over Keystone XL is bigger — as much about the potential health and environmental consequences of the crude it would carry as the steel itself.
“This pipeline is not in America’s national interest,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “It is not in the best interests of our climate.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., questioned the Republicans’ decision to prioritize Keystone XL, calling the bill a handout to “Canadian special oil interests.”
Obama administration officials have said the president’s veto of the Keystone XL bill does not mean he will rule against the project itself. Obama previously has said his support is contingent that it “does not significantly exacerbate” greenhouse gas pollution.
Still, Obama has been critical of the pipeline, questioning the number of jobs expected to spring from the project and suggesting that most of the oil that would be carried by Keystone XL would be exported.