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Obama likely to veto Keystone XL oil pipeline |

Obama likely to veto Keystone XL oil pipeline

WASHINGTON — Girding for battle with a Republican Congress over environmental policy, President Obama is signaling that he is likely to veto a bill authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline just as momentum for the project builds on Capitol Hill.

Individuals familiar with the administration’s thinking say Obama is leaning against approving the pipeline. And in a news conference in Myanmar on Friday, the president rejected two of the main arguments made by pipeline proponents, saying he had “to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is somehow lowering gas prices.”

“It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else,” he said. “That doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”

The pipeline fight is coming to a head as Obama is seeking to cement his environmental legacy by forging a climate deal with China, imposing carbon limits on U.S. power plants, setting aside more public land for conservation and, in an announcement made Friday, providing $3 billion to poor countries to cope with the impact of global warming.

In the wake of the midterm elections, that will mean a series of fights with Congress. On Friday, the House authorized construction of the pipeline by a decisive vote of 252-161. Senate Democrats have agreed to vote on the project Tuesday in an effort to boost the fortunes of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who faces a Dec. 6 runoff against the author of the House companion bill, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La.

Cassidy nearly choked up in an interview just off the House floor as he described his relief that Congress is on the verge of approving the project, saying, “If there’s another party that thinks that climate change is a winning campaign issue and they’re going to double-down on moving jobs to China, it’s their party.”

While the pipeline may not run through Louisiana or supply any of its refineries, it has become a popular cause in a state that relies heavily on oil and gas.

The White House has indicated it is prepared to reject the House bill, though it has not issued a formal veto threat. Barring an extraordinary legislative maneuver forcing his hand in the next Congress, Obama is likely to reject a final permit, according to the people with knowledge of White House decision-making.

Though a multi-step, multi-agency process must still take place before the State Department recommends whether a permit should be granted, the most important process is happening — as one administration official put it — in Obama’s head.

In public, the president and his aides have said they will wait for the State Department review, which has been suspended until Nebraska’s Supreme Court rules whether the pipeline’s route through that state was properly approved. That decision could come out any day; once it does, several agencies will have a chance to comment on whether the project serves the national interest. Secretary of State John Kerry can then issue a final determination, which would be subject to presidential approval.

In private discussions, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has indicated Obama is well aware that approving the pipeline would infuriate environmentalists, who not only lent major support to Democrats in the recent election but will serve as important allies in legislative battles as well as the 2016 presidential race.

Republicans have identified Keystone XL as one of their top legislative priorities, and it enjoys the support of several major business groups along with the oil industry.

Russ Girling, chief executive of the pipeline sponsor TransCanada, said Friday: “We are encouraged by any effort to move this process forward. No other pipeline has been scrutinized as carefully as Keystone XL, and it has met every environmental, economic, safety and supply test that has been put in front of it.”

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