NEWS

Keystone XL pipeline project decision back in Obama's hands

01/10/2015 01:52 EST | Updated 03/12/2015 05:59 EDT
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says that he is "hopeful" U.S. President Barack Obama will approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline after a Nebraska court dismissed a case that the White House previously cited as a major obstacle to green lighting the project.

On Friday, the state's Supreme Court threw out a challenge that raised concerns about the proposed pipeline's route. 

In charge of both the House of Representatives and Senate, Republican lawmakers are now speeding through a bill that would authorize construction of the 1,900-kilometre pipeline. It would carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

- LISTEN | Premier Wall on CBC's The House

The House approved the bill Friday, ending the first week of the new Congress. The Senate planned a test vote on an identical bill Monday, hoping to get it to Obama quickly.

Obama is so loath to make the call that deliberations have entered their sixth year, nearly as long as he has held office. A White House spokesman earlier this week reiterated that Obama would veto any congressional bill until the Nebraska matter was solved.

​"They intimated that was the last barrier, the last hurdle" said Wall in an interview with CBC's The House this morning. "Then it's time to get on with it."

Wall said that despite the low price of oil, building the pipeline would mean Canada, and particular Western Canada, would see better value on the resource.

"This is a cycle, it's going to move up and down. Even during a low ebb, there's still a gap in terms of the world price and the price that Canadians get for their oil," he said. 

Wall also cited concerns that if Keystone does not move forward an increasing proportion of Canadian oil will be shipped by rail, a method of conveyance more prone to accidents and spills, Wall said.

'Six years is beyond long enough'

Obama has blamed the delays on bureaucratic formalities and parochial issues in Nebraska, even when skeptics claimed that the politics of Obama's re-election race in 2012 were a more accurate explanation.

That campaign is past, the Nebraska issue is settled and a bipartisan bill forcing the pipeline's approval may soon reach Obama. Those on opposite sides of the debate just want the president to decide.

"It's time for the State Department and the president to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline — however they decide — because six years is beyond long enough," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, among the Democrats supporting the pipeline.

In April, just as the State Department's review was nearing an end, Obama suspended it, citing the Nebraska court challenge. 

The State Department said it would pick up its review where it left off. It was unclear how long that review will last.

Global warming

Obama believes the project has becoming a proxy battle for the broader debate over global warming.

"A vote against Keystone sends the signal that our government is taking the science of climate change and risk analysis seriously," said Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico.

The energy industry and business groups say Obama is jeopardizing an $8 billion project that could create thousands of jobs.

Obama has said he will only allow the pipeline if it won't lead to increased carbon dioxide emissions. He also is skeptical of claims by supporters that the pipeline will create jobs or lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"I think that there's been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy," Obama said in a December news conference.

For Obama, the GOP's attempt to force action is a sign of his diminished leverage over Congress in his final two years.

Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, who is sponsoring the Keystone bill in the Senate, said approving the pipeline would be a good-faith measure that would make it easier for Obama and Republicans to compromise on other fronts.

"That would show some willingness on his part to start working together," Hoeven said. "He's got to start working with Congress."

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