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Republicans have the votes to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Will Obama veto?

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

One possible winner in the 2014 midterms? The Keystone XL pipeline.

Now that Republicans control both the House and Senate, they'll be looking to push a bill to fast-track approval of the controversial pipeline — which would transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, down to Nebraska. The pipeline has been held up by the White House over concerns that expanded tar sands production could exacerbate climate change.

And the GOP might succeed. According to Kate Sheppard, there are now at least 61 pro-Keystone Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. That's enough to overcome a filibuster by the remaining Democrats, though it's not yet enough to overcome a White House veto (you'd need 67 votes in the Senate for that, and Republicans will no doubt try).

So one big question is whether President Obama would veto. Some onlookers are skeptical he could hold out forever. "People are fed up on Keystone," an aide to a moderate Democratic senator told my colleague Ezra Klein. "I don't know how Keystone isn't just approved if Republicans take over."

A lot may depend on the form that the bill takes. If Republicans sent a standalone pro-Keystone bill to the White House, Obama could veto rather easily. But if it was attached to a larger budget bill? If a government shutdown was potentially at stake? That's tougher.

It's worth noting that one key Democratic ally — the AFL-CIO — is already urging the Senate to approve Keystone XL (the union has been in favor of the pipeline for quite some time):

And TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, saw its stock jump after Tuesday's election results (although there are a couple of other possible reasons for that):

(Yahoo Finance)

Meanwhile, this debate will take place in a world in which global oil prices are plummeting. Why does that matter? Because companies developing the tar sands in Canada need relatively high oil prices to continue production.

When oil prices were very high — up around $100 per barrel earlier this year — then tar sands producers still found it profitable to ship their extra crude by rail, even if it was a bit pricier than using a pipeline. Keystone XL or no Keystone XL, the oil was finding its way to market. But now that oil prices are lower — around $80 per barrel — the extra cost of rail starts to pinch. That makes Keystone XL somewhat more important for continued oil production in Canada, raising the stakes for both backers and opponents alike.

Further reading: The biggest loser in this election is the climate.