But the veto — his first rejection of major legislation as president — is also a demonstration of political strength directed at Republicans who now control both chambers of Congress. Mr. Obama is signaling that he will fight back against their agenda.
The Obama administration must decide whether to approve infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline, which cross a border with another country.
In his veto message to Congress, delivered with no fanfare on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Obama wrote that the legislation “attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.”
How Keystone XL Got (So) Political
As Washington debates Keystone XL, here’s how the 1,179-mile pipeline became so political.Video by Carrie Halperin and Emily B. Hager on January 8, 2015. Photo by Andrew Cullen/Reuters.
Mr. Obama added that “because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.”
Since 2011, the proposed Keystone pipeline, which would deliver up to 800,000 barrels daily of heavy petroleum from the oil sands of Alberta to ports and refineries on the Gulf Coast, has emerged as a broader symbol of the partisan political clash over energy, climate change and the economy.
Most energy policy experts say the project will have a minimal impact on jobs and climate. But Republicans insist that the pipeline will increase employment by linking the United States to an energy supply from a friendly neighbor. Environmentalists say it will contribute to ecological destruction and damaging climate change.
Mr. Obama has hinted that he thinks both sides have inflated their arguments, but he has not said what he will decide.
In hisState of the Union address last month, Mr. Obama urged lawmakers to move past the pipeline debate, urging passage of a comprehensive infrastructure plan. “Let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,” he said.
Republican leaders have said they plan to use the veto, which was expected, to denounce Mr. Obama as a partisan obstructionist.
“This is bipartisan legislation being vetoed by a partisan president,” said John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. “I think the president has made his decision to side with special interests. This is going to further marginalize the president in the last two years.”
Environmentalists interpreted the veto as a sign that Mr. Obama would soon decide to reject the project, as he sought to enhance his environmental legacy.
“All along we’ve hoped that the president meant what he said way back in 2008 about stopping climate change; the veto is a start, but we will find out for sure when he issues his final decision on this gimcrack project,” wrote Bill McKibben, the founder of the group350.org, which has led the campaign to urge Mr. Obama to reject the pipeline.
In recent months, the environmental activists — who have spent years marching, protesting and getting arrested outside the White House in their quest to persuade Mr. Obama to reject the project — say they are increasingly optimistic that their efforts will be successful.
“Hopefully the ongoing legislative charade has strengthened his commitment to do the right thing,” Mr. McKibben added.
The debate began in 2008, when the TransCanada Corporation applied for a permit to construct the 1,179-mile pipeline. The State Department is required to determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest, but the last word on whether the project will go forward ultimately rests with the president.
Mr. Obama has delayed making that decision until all the legal and environmental reviews of the process are complete. He has said a critical factor in his decision making will be the question of whether the project contributes to climate change.
Last year, an 11-volume environmental impact review by the State Department concluded that oil extracted from the Canadian oil sands produced about 17 percent more carbon pollution than conventionally extracted oil.
But the review said the pipeline was unlikely to contribute to a significant increase of planet-warming greenhouse gases because the fuel was likely to be extracted from the oil sands and sold with or without construction of the pipeline.
This month, environmentalists pointed to a different review by the Environmental Protection Agency that they said proved the pipeline could add to greenhouse gases.
The question of whether to build the pipeline comes as Mr. Obama hopes to make climate change policy a cornerstone of his legacy. This summer, the E.P.A. is expected to issue sweeping regulations to cut greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, a move experts say would have vastly more impact on the nation’s carbon footprint than construction of the Keystone pipeline.
In December, world leaders hope to sign a global United Nations accord in Paris, committing every nation in the world to enacting plans to reduce their rates of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. In the coming months, countries are expected to begin putting forward those policies for cutting carbon emissions.
While the Keystone pipeline is not expected to be part of the United States climate change plan, a public presidential decision on the project could be interpreted as a message about the president’s symbolic commitment to the issue of climate change.
Until that decision comes, however, both sides of the Keystone fight are stepping up their tactics. Environmental groups are planning more marches and White House petitions, while Republicans in Congress are looking for ways to bring the Keystone measure back to Mr. Obama’s desk.
Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, who sponsored the Keystone bill, said he would consider adding language requiring construction of the pipeline to other legislation, such as spending bills to fund federal agencies, which could make a veto far more politically risky for Mr. Obama.
A final decision by the president could come soon. Last month, a court in Nebraska reached a verdict in a case about the pipeline’s route through the state, clearing the way for construction. And this month, final reviews of the pipeline by eight federal agencies were completed.
However, Mr. Obama is under no legal obligation to make a final decision, and there is no official timetable for a decision. He could approve or deny the project at any time — or leave the decision to the next president.
Original article on The New York Times