The Implications of Obama's Keystone XL Veto

Big news: President Obama, following through on his promise, vetoed the bill allowing for the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline. In part of his message to Congress regarding the decision, Obama wrote:

“The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And 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.”

The Keystone XL pipeline has been in the works since 2010, and has been the subject of intense debate in the political sphere since the start. Meant to transport oil extracted from tar sands in Canada down to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, the amount of carbon emissions associated with this work is of major concern to environmental advocates who have strongly opposed the project. The bill’s supporters have focused primarily on the potential it has for job creation in the U.S while downplaying environmental risks.

What are the environmental risks?

Tar sands oil endangers human health and ecosystems every step of the way, from the extraction sites in Alberta, Canada to the trains and pipelines that carry the heavy crude to the processing refineries. Excavating companies strip-mine Alberta’s northern boreal forest, a fragile ecosystem of diverse wildlife and migrating birds, polluting its local waterways and destroying the home of several First Nations tribes. The extraction and subsequent refining of tar sands oil requires a large amount of water, natural gas, and hazardous chemicals. During these processes, extremely high levels of carbon emissions are released, contributing to climate change and illness. Due to lax laws, highly-profitable transportation companies, such as TransCanada and Enbridge, aren’t required to take adequate safety precautions, resulting in multiple oil spills and pollution across the country. As we learned from the 2010 tar sands spill in the Kalamazoo River, tar sands oils is very difficult, if not impossible, to clean up. Finally, during its end use, tar sands oil continues to pollute, ranking as the dirtiest and most carbon intensive fuel we can burn.  

What does the veto mean?

The President’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline is not the final word. Recently, the Senate voted; yet failed to override the veto, finishing out the session just four votes shy of success. Now the issue heads back to the State Department’s administrative review process. Upon reemerging from this stage, the proposal will be sent to the desk of Secretary of State John Kerry, who will officially decide whether or not the Keystone XL project is in the nation’s best interest. Although there is no deadline for a final decision at this time, Kerry’s determination will likely influence Obama’s ultimate rejection (or passage) of the pipeline.

With the pipeline returning to a state of limbo, many organizations in support of a healthier climate have showed their support of the President’s decision to veto. Take action now and sign the unity letter to President Obama, urging a final rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project.