Obama warns Congress against challenge to greenhouse gas rules

President Barack Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night and included a stern warning to the GOP-dominated Senate and House of Representatives that he would veto bills that seek to block tighter limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The chief executive’s words came during a four-paragraph riff on climate change.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe,” Obama said. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

Obama said he would not go along with any effort by Congress to reverse course on climate policy.

“I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions,” the President said. “And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

A website maintained by the House of Representatives’ GOP caucus later posted a poorly-edited version of the State of the Union address, in which some of Mr. Obama’s comments about climate change were omitted.

Among the regulations aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions proposed by the administration are two that affect new and existing coal-fired power plants. Republicans on Capitol Hill want to block those rules.

House of Representatives clears KXL bill on same day Nebraska court rejects challenge to route

The Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives passed on Friday a bill that would strip President Barack Obama of the authority to decide whether to authorize the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canada border.

The action came hours after the Nebraska Supreme Court removed one of the causes of delay in the administration’s review of the project. That court reversed a state trial court ruling that the statute under which former GOP Gov. Dave Heineman approved the pipeline route violated the Nebraska constitution.

The White House said again Thursday that President Obama would not decide whether or not to grant a permit allowing the pipeline to proceed until the litigation in Nebraska was resolved.

A committee of the U.S. Senate acted Thursday to approve a bill to expedite the pipeline. That chamber’s Energy & Natural Resources Committee, where Republicans have a 12-10 advantage, gave S.1 a green light with the help of one Democrat – West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

The vote on the House bill, the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Act, was 266-153. Every Republican except Justin Amash of Michigan voted “aye.” They were joined by 28 Democrats. Amash voted “present.”

Despite the lopsided sentiment in the chamber in favor of sidelining President Obama and forcing approval of the pipeline, the number of “aye” votes is not enough to override an expected veto of H.R. 3.

Over in the Senate, backers of similar legislation – S.1 – appear to have the 60 votes needed to cut off any attempt to filibuster the bill and approve it. It is not likely that 67 senators would vote to override a veto.

According to a report in The Hill newspaper, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has scheduled a cloture vote on the Senate bill for Monday, Jan. 12.

The House and Senate bills have identical text, which means that the proposed legislation would proceed immediately to President Obama’s desk if the Senate rejects a filibuster of S.1 and then approves it.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruling did not involve any of the seven justices finding that the law allowing approval of the pipeline route through the state was constitutional. Four justices said the statute violated the state constitution and three opined that the plaintiffs in the case lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. Under Nebraska law five justices must agree that a state law violates the state constitution in order to hold the statute invalid.

New Congress opens with GOP effort to push through KXL pipeline

The 114th Congress, with Republicans in charge of both chambers, opened Jan. 6 with the new majority showing a determination to move quickly on an attempt force approval of the KXL pipeline.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the new majority leader, said on Dec. 16 that he would bring a bill that strips President Barack Obama of the authority to reject the KXL pipeline to the floor as the first act of the new GOP majority in the chamber.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee planned to conduct on Wednesday a hearing on S1, the KXL pipeline bill, but it was postponed after an objection by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on behalf of the Democratic caucus.

Whether the delay will affect a mark-up of the bill that is scheduled for Thursday is not yet clear.

A Jan. 6 report in The Hill online newspaper said that there are 63 votes in the Senate to support the planned GOP legislation, including Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

All of the chamber’s 54 Republicans are co-sponsors of the bill.

The House of Representatives, under GOP control since Jan. 2011, repeatedly passed bills to approve the pipeline during the 112th and 113th Congresses and is expected to again pass such legislation within the week.

The White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said Tuesday that President Barack Obama would veto any bill that seeks to eliminate the president’s authority to decide whether to grant permission for the pipeline to cross the international border separating the United States from Canada.

“I mean, the fact is this piece of legislation is not altogether different than legislation that was introduced in the last Congress, and you’ll recall that we put out a statement of administration position indicating that the President would have vetoed had that bill passed the previous Congress,” Earnest said. “And I can confirm for you that if this bill passes this Congress the President wouldn’t sign it either.”

Even if an attempted override of a presidential veto could secure the necessary two-thirds affirmative vote in the House of Representatives, it is unlikely that such an attempt would succeed in the Senate. In that chamber 67 votes would be needed to enact the KXL pipeline bill into law over Obama’s objection.

The Department of State’s review of the application for the permit needed to build the pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border is currently delayed by litigation in the Nebraska state courts.

A Lancaster County district judge ruled in February that the state law invoked by the state’s former Republican Gov. Dave Heineman to justify approval of the pipeline route through the state violated the Nebraska constitution.

That decision is now before the Nebraska Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case in September.