The Nebraska Supreme Court delivered an unpleasant surprise to the White House this morning. Barack Obama and his aides had argued that the Keystone XL Pipeline approval legislation working its way quickly through Congress would have to get vetoed in part because it would intrude on a court case in Nebraska over its route. That impediment, whether real or imaginary, vanished in a split decision this morning:
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday against landowners challenging Keystone XL pipeline route through the state, possibly clearing a path for President Barack Obama to make a decision on the project that has been under review for more than six years.
Nebraska’s highest court, in a split decision, threw out a lower-court ruling that had found a 2012 state law on pipeline oversight unconstitutional. The law gave Nebraska’s governor the power to review and approve certain major pipelines, including Keystone XL. The judges sided with Nebraska’s Republican governor, Dave Heineman, in a ruling that said the state law must remain in place because a required supermajority of the court wasn’t prepared to strike it down.
The formal veto threat on Wednesday cited this pending case as one of the main reasons Obama planned to veto any legislation authorizing construction of the pipeline. “The bill also would authorize the project despite uncertainty due to ongoing litigation in Nebraska,” the official statement read, even though a conditional approval would have had no impact on the legal issues involved. The other reason, that it would “cut short consideration” of a project that the State Department has been reviewing for almost as long as it took us to send a man to the Moon, may be the only fig leaf left.
At least Politico seems to buy that as a reason, but notes that the Nebraska decision will allow the State Department to reach a conclusion now:
With Friday’s ruling effectively settling the pipeline’s path through Nebraska, the State Department has little obvious reason to keep delaying a final recommendation to Obama. How fast the department completes that review may depend on whether the White House pushes it to fast-forward through the process’ final stage, which once was expected to include a new public hearing on the project.
The State Department’s environmental studies, including a final one issued in January 2014, found that the pipeline would have little impact on climate change because Canada will keep producing oil regardless of whether Keystone is built. But the department’s broader “national interest” determination must consider a broader set of issues, including the economy, energy security and U.S. relations with Canada.
Yeah, sure. The Obama administration could have resolved all of these issues even if the Nebraska case truly represented an impediment to their final conclusion. Instead, the White House and State Department has seized on any pretext for delays that they could find, and it’s not a mystery why, either. The decision on Keystone puts them in between union interests who want the jobs that building the pipeline will produce, and the environmentalists that want to stop oil production just because. Both sides have deep-pocket donors involved, and a final decision might close a major cash pipeline for Democrats in 2016, especially Tom Steyer, who blew as much as $75 million on the midterms and came up empty.
The House will vote on its version of the Keystone pipeline approval at 12:30 ET. That is the version which Obama threatened to veto. The Senate takes up its version next week, and watch for Democrats to offer amendments that will allow Obama to claim some limited victory and grudgingly allow for a signature. For today, keep a close eye on how many Democrats cross over on the House vote. If this becomes a significantly bipartisan effort (and it might, thanks to the unions), it will undercut the efforts of Senate Democrats to get Obama a face-saving deal next week.
Update: A little while earlier, the House bill passed on a 266-153 vote, with 28 Democrats crossing the aisle. Despite the bipartisan support, The Hill reports that the White House is “unmoved” by the court ruling and presumably the vote:
A Nebraska court’s Friday ruling permitting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline along its proposed route will not immediately lead to the White House committing to a time frame for the project.
“Our posture and our position hasn’t changed,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday. “This is a process that is still underway at the State Department. I don’t have any updates for you.”
Via a source on Capitol Hill, here is the list of Democrats who voted in favor of the House bill today:
Interesting to see James Clyburn’s name on this, as well as Sheila Jackson Lee’s. Only one Republican didn’t cast an aye vote; Justin Amash voted “present” instead.