Keystone Tea Leaves

Last week, for “Thought You Should Know” Thursday, Keystone was the biggest news in climate change and the environment.  This Thursday, it still is.

While important scientific studies on climate change have been published, Keystone is stealing the limelight and generating a lot of political heat.  Opposing camps are digging in, drawing lines and strategically maneuvering.  Whether it deserves all this attention or not , here’s the latest on those maneuvers:


“It’s got us very freaked out” said Ross Eisenburg, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based group that represents 11,000 companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Southern Co.

Obama may expand upon a Nixon-era law, called NEPA

Obama may expand upon a Nixon-era law, called NEPA

Why the freak out? Obama may expand upon a Nixon-era law, called NEPA. Originally this law was designed to force government agencies to assess the impact of construction projects on the environment. You know- clean air, clean water, all that good stuff. But now, in updating the law, Obama would require that global warming and carbon emissions be considered before approving major projects. Yup, that would include Keystone XL (here’s Keystone 101, if you need it) According to this Nixonian law, even if these projects, like Keystone, are approved by the government, citizens and environmental groups can sue and substantially delay things with lawsuits.

The move produced great glee among team Kill XL folks (the hold your breath and cross your fingers kind) as well as headlines questioning what it all means. The National Review asked “Did Obama Just Block Keystone?” and went on to explain the trick:

Obama can publicly “approve” Keystone, while simultaneously handing the left the tool they need to put the project on semi-permanent hold. Environmentalists would take the political heat, while Obama would get off scot-free. Pretty clever.


Perhaps in response to that move, the House of Representatives introduced a bill…oh and the Senate introduced a bill too…a different one.   Both bills include language that attempts to offer congressional approval to the Keystone XL pipeline without Obama’s blessing (and before NEPA can be put into effect).

The bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Lee Terry (R-NE) last week, H.R. 3, had this language:

…no presidential  permit shall be required for the pipeline described 21 in the application filed on May 4, 2012, by TransCanada 22 Keystone Pipeline

Lee Terry (R-Nebraska)

Lee Terry (R-Nebraska)

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) considers this move more of a “political statement” than anything else-  Obama would ultimately have to sign H.R. 3 into law if it successfully passes both the House and Senate.  It’s hard to image him signing that, unless it’s somehow added to must-pass legislation.  Long shot.

Meanwhile over in the Senate, John Hoeven, (R-ND) and Max Baucus, (D-MT) introduced a bill last Thursday.  Hoeven apparently believes he has enough votes to overturn an Obama veto, should it reach that point.

Then, on Monday, in an alarming press release,, an organization fighting to kill the pipeline, seemed to have its own freak out.

This week the Senate is expected to vote on measures that would undermine President Obama’s authority to review the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) nor Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office had any knowledge of a vote in the senate when I spoke with their press offices.  The Hoeven bill had just been introduced, so it seemed unlikely they were voting on that so soon.  In private emails between’s media campaigner and me, I asked what the senate might be voting on and he responded, “The answer is no one knows.”  He thought it could be a budget amendment.  A source I spoke to yesterday at the Environmental & Public Works committee, which Boxer chairs, said nothing had been filed.  I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

There will probably be a few more freak outs and a great deal of parsing for Keystone clues before the final fate of Keystone is determined.