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Obama vetoes Keystone XL

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama didn't waste time vetoing a bill that would have allowed Congress to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

The White House announced Tuesday that Obama blocked the legislation the same day it was placed on his desk. It's only the third time the president has vetoed a bill in his six years in office.

"Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest," Obama wrote in his veto message to the Senate.

The controversial project would transport approximately 800,000 barrels of oil sands a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Of that amount, the pipeline, spearheaded by TransCanada Corp., would skirt the North Dakota Bakken and would have the ability to transport 100,000 barrels of North Dakota and Montana crude oil each day.

The project has been delayed for six years after several environmental reviews, Obama's rejection of the pipeline's route and appeals in Nebraska on who has the right to approve the project. Environmentalists and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have said Keystone XL would increase the carbon emissions footprint.

"His own EPA has been saying the Keystone XL has failed his climate test he laid out in 2013, so we expect him to reject it," said Luisa Abbott Galvao, a climate and energy associate for environmental group Friends of the Earth. "There is no justification for doing otherwise."

TransCanada and the congressional delegation from North Dakota strongly disagreed, saying the statements from the EPA were erroneous and unfounded.

"EPA has no basis for making that determination, which is incredibly frustrating," U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said. "It's a ridiculous argument. It's grasping at straws because science doesn't support what EPA is saying."

Friends of the Earth praised Obama's decision as sending "a strong message to Congress that the government should represent the interests of the American people instead of Big Oil."

"The Keystone XL bill is the first in the Republican leadership's plan to unabashedly assault our clean air and clean water, during this Congress," said Erich Pica, the Friends of the Earth president. "The veto follows through on the president's State of the Union promise to prevent Congress from endangering the health of our children."

Supporters of Keystone XL also have said the project would create 42,000 jobs. Obama and opponents have downplayed the claim, stating most of those jobs would be temporary. They also tout that the general public has consistently supported Keystone XL, though Friends of the Earth dispute that claim.

'Earned my veto'

Obama wrote in the veto letter that he takes the power to veto legislation seriously, but that he also has to consider "my responsibility to the American people.

"And because this act of Congress conflicts with established branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment -- it has earned my veto."

The White House had previously stated Obama would veto the bill. Obama also said he would reject the pipeline if it adversely contributed to climate change.

The reasoning behind his veto, which Heitkamp said she anticipated, is more welcoming than an outright rejection.

"I feel better about that statement than I would had he said the Keystone pipeline shouldn't be built," Heitkamp said. "The reason why I voted to usurp the process is because the process is broken. It is ridiculous to think that he needs six-and-a-half years to site a pipeline."

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the lead sponsor on the bill, said Obama's reasoning was nonsensical.

"He is not following his own process," Hoeven said. "For heaven's sakes, he's been at it for over six years. That's just ridiculous. ... If we have companies that do everything right, follow the law, follow the regulation, and then the president still turns it down, that makes it very hard for us to grow our energy industry."

However, Galvao said the pipeline will contribute to climate change and that Obama needs to commit to protecting the environment.

"The fact that this is his third veto, I mean, we are bracing for more," Galvao said. "We have a Republican-dominated Congress that is going to be hitting us with an onslaught of bad environmental policy. We are really pleased (Obama) stood up against polluting interests and stood with the people on this one."

Overriding the veto

Heitkamp and Hoeven gained enough Democrats to pass the bill in January but would need four more votes to override the veto. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ala., announced the Republican-led chamber would attempt to overturn the president's decision by March 3.

Hoeven hopes to test the override sometime next week, though Heitkamp advised that that route cannot be rushed. She is in talks with senators to gain the additional votes needed to override the veto.

Hoeven also plans to attach Keystone XL to energy legislation that would make it difficult for Obama to veto if necessary.

The State Department's review on Keystone XL is expected soon, officials said. Supporters of the project are hopeful, if the department shows similar findings to its previous reports, that it will convince Obama to approve the pipeline.

"We need to do everything that we can to encourage the president to do the right thing," Heitkamp said. "I understand the record that has been created regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, and there is no legitimate reason to deny that permit. If that permit is denied, that will be a political decision, and not a decision based on fact."

Hoeven said it is a shame that Obama has vetoed the bill because it makes it harder to produce energy at home and pull away from depending on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Oil prices have fallen due to OPEC flooding the market with oil in an attempt to undermine production in the U.S., Hoeven said.

"It puts OPEC back in the driver seat," he said. "I think ultimately we will prevail because it is about building energy security for this country."

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in a statement the company was "fully committed" to Keystone XL despite Obama's veto and would work with the State Department to answer any questions it has about the project.

Reuters Media contributed to this report.