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Pipeline opponents one step closer to victory with Obama veto pledge

Pipeline opponents taking part in two weeks of sit-ins outside the White House in 2011. (Flickr / Josh Lopez)

Pipeline opponents taking part in two weeks of sit-ins outside the White House in 2011. (Flickr / Josh Lopez)

In a major victory for the environmental movement, President Barack Obama announced that he would commit to veto legislation approving oil company TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline should it pass through the House and Senate in the freshly minted 114th Congress.

Since it was first proposed back in 2008, the Keystone XL pipeline has faced fierce opposition from environmental groups both along the pipeline’s route and nationally in Canada and the United States, including one of the largest-ever acts of civil disobedience around an environmental issue back in 2011. Taking heavy leadership from indigenous First Nations groups, the broad coalition resisting the pipeline illustrates that defeating the pipeline is about far more than its environmental impacts. Bold Nebraska, the Cowboy-Indian Alliance, 350.org and many others have joined forces over the last several years to not only stop the pipeline, but kick off a new wave of militancy within an environmental movement increasingly aware of the social and economic impacts of climate change and extraction.

A bill forcing approval of the pipeline, which would transfer as much as 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil each day from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, failed in the Senate back in November. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu endorsed the legislation hoping to appeal to more conservative Democrats in her run-off election. Both the strategy and the bill flopped, though, as Landrieu lost the run-off to challenger Bill Cassidy, and the bill fell just one vote shy of the 60 needed to pass. Protesters flooded Senate offices back in November, occupying those of lawmakers who to that point had been on the fence about the measure.

House Republicans, including majority leader Mitch McConnell, have been adamant that approving Keystone XL pipeline would top their 2015 legislative agenda. The bill under discussion, brought by Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, would circumvent a State Department review currently on hold pending the outcome of a Nebraska Supreme Court case, one pushed for by Bold Nebraska.

Tuesday’s announcement presents an obvious challenge to GOP lawmakers, who would now need 67 votes to overcome the White House veto. Hoeven announced yesterday that Keystone XL supporters had only 63 votes, according to Mother Jones. After nearly eight years, those fighting the pipeline might be wary to see the announcement as the final nail in the pipeline’s coffin. That said, it’s most definitely a step in the right direction.