Please Grease the Wheels

It’s just about a year since Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird impatiently announced, “The time for Keystone is now. I’ll go further — the time for a decision on Keystone is now, even if it’s not the right one. We can’t continue in this state of limbo.”

Not to worry. If slow but sure wins the race, we may yet see oil coming down the pipe.

The 1,200-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day from the Alberta tar sands in western Canada all the way down to refineries in Illinois and Texas. Ottawa strongly backs Keystone XL, which it says would create jobs and provide a secure supply of oil to Canada’s closest ally and trading partner.

The embattled pipeline is an extension of the Keystone pipeline running from Hardisty in Alberta, Canada, down to Nebraska and Illinois. The new extension would run from Alberta, through Morgan, Montana, then on through South Dakota and Nebraska to Steele City, Nebraska.

Opposition to the extension comes from environmentalists who claim it would threaten water reserves along the route. They also say that, because the oil would be produced from tar sands, it would have to be heated to separate the crude oil from the sand. This, they claim, would produce more global warming than traditional oil drilling.

Other opponents say the return on investment for the project makes less sense today with crude oil prices hovering around $50 a barrel — down from more than $115 in June 2014.

Proponents say the pipeline will lower oil prices, increase U.S. energy independence, create 42,000 jobs, and boost the economy by $2 Billion.

The fly in the oil is that — with the pipeline crossing an international border — it falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of State. But the real roadblock is President Obama, who has threatened he will veto the bill on environmental grounds.

Global warming isn’t cool.

In November, the House voted 252 to 161 for the Keystone pipeline. Now, the duel over the pipeline is the first test of the new Republican-controlled Senate.

The showdown has begun. The White House has announced that it will veto the bill on the grounds that the federal review of whether it would serve national interests has not been completed.

An outraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The president threatening to veto the first bipartisan infrastructure bill of the new Congress must come as a shock to the American people who spoke loudly in November in favor of bipartisan accomplishments.”

McConnell (R., Ky.) promises a fight to the finish — even if it means putting together the 67 out of 100 votes needed to overturn the threatened veto.

There is some bipartisan support. The Wall Street Journal reports that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) is one of several Senate Democrats who are for the Keystone bill. She criticized the Obama administration. “You cannot defend that process. Six years to site a pipeline is ridiculous.” However, Senator Charles Schumer has said that, if the president does veto the bill, there will be enough Democratic votes to sustain his veto.

Speaker of the House John Boehner minced no words in condemning the veto threat. “On a bipartisan basis, the American people overwhelmingly support building the Keystone XL pipeline. After years of manufacturing every possible excuse, today President Obama was finally straight with them about where he truly stands. His answer is no to more American infrastructure, no to more American energy, and no to more American jobs. Fringe extremists in the president’s party are the only ones who oppose Keystone, but the president has chosen to side with them instead of the American people and the government’s own scientific evidence that this project is safe for the environment.”

Whatever happens now in the Senate showdown, John Girard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, is confident that the pipeline will be completed this year — veto or no veto.

In a news conference, Girard said, “I believe, at some point in 2015, the Keystone XL pipeline will be approved. How it gets approved, it may have to go through one or two other iterations. I believe it doesn’t bode well for relationships between the White House and Capitol Hill. Here they are, the leaders in the Senate and the House have picked an issue that has broad bipartisan support. The bill introduced this morning had 60 co-sponsors on it — six Democrats along with all the Republicans. And we’re aware of at least three other Democrats who will vote for the bill.”

The president has often talked about  getting past partisan politics. Now he has a golden opportunity to do so … and to grease the wheels of the economy.