President Barack Obama stayed true to his word Tuesday, vetoing the bill that would force his hand on the Keystone XL pipeline.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the veto would occur quietly Tuesday, “without any drama or fanfare or delay.”
The veto is just Obama’s third, and by far the most impactful, but with Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress for the first time in his presidency, that number is expected to rise sharply.
Touted by supporters as a project that would create thousands of jobs and boost energy independence, the $5.4 billion pipeline would connect tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to the existing Keystone network stretching to the Gulf of Mexico.
Obama’s opposition was not directed at the pipeline project itself, although he has in the past said the construction jobs created by the project would be temporary and U.S. consumers would miss out on any economic benefit from the oil, which would mostly be shipped overseas.
Instead, detractors say the legislation would carve out exceptions to laws and regulations for TransCanada that would leave U.S. taxpayers on the hook in the event of a spill or other accident.
“Democrats wanted the pipeline, if it was going to be built, to be built with American steel. Republicans said no,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a press conference last month. “We also wanted the oil that came through the pipeline to be used in the U.S. to benefit Americans. Republicans said no. And we wanted to protect U.S. drinking water from oil spills coming from a Canadian-owned pipeline. Again, Republicans said no.”
Experts are divided on whether the construction would have a negative impact on the environment, as crude extracted from tar sands emits more carbon than traditional drilling. Those supporting the project say Canadian oil companies will develop the tar sands, and release the harmful gases, regardless of whether the pipeline is built. Opponents hope a rejection of Keystone will keep those carbons in the ground.
The White House has said the veto is not its final word on the Keystone project, but simply the last action on this particular legislation. Administration officials have repeatedly said they wished to wait to act until the State Department has completed its ongoing impact review, and on Tuesday, Earnest said it “certainly is possible” the president could ultimately sign off on the project.
Republicans slammed the veto regardless, accusing Obama of ignoring the will of a bipartisan majority in Congress and the American people and vowed to continue to fight.
“The White House’s recommendation of a veto has nothing to do with the aforementioned merits of the project,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a Tuesday op-ed in USA Today. “Unfortunately, this White House refuses to listen and look for common ground.”
“The allure of appeasing environmental extremists may be too powerful for the president to ignore,” they said. “But the president is sadly mistaken if he thinks vetoing this bill will end this fight. Far from it. We are just getting started.”