WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rejected a bill Tuesday that would have approved construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the first veto of a year that seems likely to feature repeated such moves as the Democratic president confronts the Republican-led Congress.
The veto came as no surprise to GOP lawmakers, who passed the measure in early February. The decision to reject the bill came within hours of its formal delivery to the White House on Tuesday.
Before Congress passed the bill, Obama had promised to reject it, saying that it improperly infringed on his executive powers by moving the process of reviewing the pipeline from the administration to Congress.
Republican congressional leaders are expected to schedule a vote in coming days in an attempt to override the veto, but that effort is almost certain to fail. The bill passed both houses of Congress with less than the two-thirds vote needed for an override.
Even before the veto, Republican congressional leaders attacked Obama’s expected action. “It’s hard to even imagine what a serious justification for a veto might be,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a floor speech Tuesday.
“This bipartisan bill is a solution for fixing a review the Obama administration broke as it ignored deadlines and interfered for political reasons,” he said.
The White House has preserved the possibility that the administration might yet approve the Keystone project if officials determine after further review that it is in the national interest. The project’s backers, however, have become increasingly gloomy about ever receiving a green light from Obama.
Keystone is designed to move oil from the tar sands deposits under Canada’s prairies more than 1,000 miles to refineries along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Because it crosses an international border, U.S. law requires that the State Department find the project to be in the national interest before granting a license for construction.
TransCanada, which proposes to build the pipeline, filed its application with the State Department in September 2008, and the project has been under review ever since.
Republicans said they passed the bill, which would order the project’s approval, in order to fulfill their commitment to pursue job-creating policies.
In a video released Monday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said “Keystone XL pipeline is a good idea for our economy and it’s a good idea for our country.” The project would create up to 42,000 direct jobs, Boehner said.
Maine’s congressional delegation has been split on the Keystone Pipeline proposition. Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and independent Sen. Angus King both opposed the bill, while Republicans Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin both support the measure.
On Tuesday, Poliquin said Obama had “put politics before policy” by vetoing the GOP’s bills. “This important energy infrastructure would have created more than 40,000 jobs, helped grow our economy and provide another step towards energy independence,” he said.
Administration officials say most of the jobs the project would create are temporary, related to construction, and that the number of permanent jobs involved is minuscule. At the same time, the project could have serious negative environmental consequences, mostly by contributing to global warming, they say.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency reported to the State Department that the pipeline would add as much carbon dioxide to the air each year as 6 million passenger vehicles.
Obama has said previously that the project would only promote the U.S. national interest if it didn’t significantly worsen carbon emissions, the leading cause of global warming.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the EPA assessment doesn’t necessarily decide the question. The EPA study is part of the State Department’s review, he said, and no conclusion has been made yet about whether the proposed pipeline would significantly worsen carbon emissions.
The president’s decision to veto the Keystone bill, Earnest said, was based not on the merits of the project but rather on his concern about respecting the process of review.
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