The Keystone XL pipeline was approved by the House of Representatives last week, and the Senate is expected to vote on the measure today. All reports have indicated that the vote will be incredibly close, with estimations that just one more Senator needs to approve the project in order for it to pass. President Obama has already warned that he may veto the bill, citing environmental concerns and the fact that the pipeline's international border crossing technically makes it an issue for the State Department to approve. Congress is voting to circumvent the State Department approval process.
The project is split amongst Democrats in the Senate, and understandably so. There are significant benefits as well as many potential drawbacks involved with the pipeline. As NPR reports, the fully completed Keystone XL pipeline would be able to transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the short term, the project would reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, particularly from the Middle East and Venezuela. It would also create thousands of construction jobs in the short term, although that number will drop off significantly to about 50 permanent jobs once the pipeline is completed.
A major concern regarding the project is its potential impact on the environment. President Obama has been more firm in his position on climate change in recent weeks, reaching an agreement with China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in both nations. The President, as well as numerous environmental activists and lobbyists, have voiced concerns about the effect the Keystone Pipeline will have on carbon emissions. In a report published earlier this year, however, the State Department estimated that the environmental effect would be minimal because the oil would be created whether the pipeline was built or not. Still, producing the oil from Canada’s oil sands would lead to an estimated 17 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional oil drilling. Concern about the potential environmental impact is one of the main reasons the project has been stalled for so many years.
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As it seems to be with everything in Congress these days, the politics of the pipeline may outweigh the actual vote itself. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is currently in a runoff election against Republican Bill Cassidy, with a special election set for Dec. 6. Landrieu introduced the Keystone bill and has been gathering Democratic supporters, likely in an effort to appeal to voters in her home state. If this lame-duck Senate with a Democrat majority can pass the bill, Obama would be unwise not to accept Congress’s decision. Otherwise, the project will likely be reintroduced sometime next year.
Whether or not it passes Congress or is approved by the President, the Keystone pipeline is a short-term solution to a larger problem. Ramping up spending on nonrenewable energy will undoubtedly provide benefits for several years, but the country needs to seriously think about allocating funds towards alternative energy sources. The Keystone project could detract from that, but again, the positive outcomes are undeniable. Also, as the State Department noted in its report, the oil is going to be used regardless. If the United States can benefit from its agreement with Canada, it's in the nation and the continent’s best interest to approve it. With a new Congress scheduled to take over next year that’s undoubtedly in favor of the Keystone pipeline and less concerned about the environmental impact the project might have, President Obama should not veto this version of the project if it passes. If he does veto the project, he should lead the country in exploring more alternative energy sources.
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