By Rhea Suh, President, NRDC, Huffington Post
President Obama is poised to reject legislation meant to force the approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, in what would be his third veto since taking office six years ago.
Pipeline proponents, naturally, are howling.
Obama, though, is exercising his veto authority under the Constitution in precisely the way our founders intended: as a check on Congressional overreach at odds with the good of the country.
The president is the only public official elected to represent all the American people. That confers upon the president, uniquely, an obligation to act on behalf of the entire country, not simply a collection of congressional districts or states, in a way that reflects the common will and advances the national interest.
The Constitution enshrines the presidential veto as a vital tool for fulfilling that role, and leaders throughout our history have found it essential. Presidents stretching back to George Washington have used the veto 2,563 times to reject legislation passed by both houses of Congress.
Ronald Reagan used his veto power 78 times — the most of any president in modern times. Obama, at the other end of the scale, has vetoed just two bills so far — fewer than any other president in 160 years.
Rarely is the veto more clearly in order as now.
Under long-established procedure, the question of whether to approve a project like a pipeline that would cross a U.S. border hangs on a single criteria: is the project in the national interest? It is the president’s job — and properly so — to make that determination.
In assessing whether the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline meets the criteria, Obama has put the U.S. State Department in the lead, with expertise added from an array of other government agencies that oversee commerce, transportation, energy, environment and other important areas central to the national interest.
The Republican-led House gave final congressional approval today to a bill meant to force approval of the tar sands pipeline in a way that would usurp presidential authority, short-circuit the deliberative process of informed evaluation already underway and supersede the president’s obligation to determine whether the project is good for the country.
Those are three good reasons to veto the bill.
There is, though, one more, and it goes to the heart of our system of checks and balances.
The tar sands pipeline is not a project designed to help this country. It is a plan to pipe some of the dirtiest oil on the planet — tar sands crude mined from Canada’s boreal forest using some of the most destructive industrial practices ever devised — through the breadbasket of America to Gulf coast refineries where most of the fuel will be shipped overseas.
It would create 35 permanent American jobs, according to the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline. And the tar sands crude would generate 17 percent more of the carbon pollution that is driving climate change than conventional crude oil produces.
It would put our heartland at grave and needless risk of the kind of pipeline accidents we’ve seen nearly 6,000 times over just the past two decades. It would cross more than 1,000 rivers, streams and other waterways and pass within a mile of some 3,000 underground wells that supply irrigation and drinking water to communities and farms across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. And it would deepen our addiction to the fossil fuels of the past when we need to be investing in the clean energy options of the future.
That is not a project that serves our national interest. It is, instead, a project that’s about big profits for big oil, big payoffs for industry allies on Capitol Hill and big pollution for the rest of us.
If that’s what the Republican leadership in Congress wants to drop on the president’s desk, here’s what’s going to happen. The president is going to do what other presidents going back to George Washington have done more than 2,500 times: stand up for what’s best for all Americans, and veto this terrible bill.