Keystone XL Review Delayed Again

A final decision on the pipeline may not come until after November’s elections.

Business groups are pushing President Obama to approve the cross-border leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
April 18, 2014, 11:21 a.m.

The State De­part­ment an­nounced Fri­day af­ter­noon that it’s ex­tend­ing its dead­line for re­view of the pro­posed Key­stone XL oil-sands pipeline, a move that could punt a fi­nal de­cision un­til after the midterm con­gres­sion­al elec­tions.

State said it told fed­er­al agen­cies that they will have more time to weigh in on the pro­posed north­ern leg of Tran­sCanada’s pipeline, a pro­ject that’s at the heart of an in­tense polit­ic­al and lob­by­ing fight. 

The de­part­ment is cit­ing an on­go­ing Neb­raska court battle over the state law used to ap­prove the route through that state as reas­on to ex­tend its re­view.

“Agen­cies need ad­di­tion­al time based on the un­cer­tainty cre­ated by the on­go­ing lit­ig­a­tion in the Neb­raska Su­preme Court which could ul­ti­mately af­fect the pipeline route in that state,” the State De­part­ment said in its an­nounce­ment Fri­day.

The move ex­tends what has been the highest-pro­file en­vir­on­ment­al battle in years. The delay ap­pears likely to push the fi­nal White House de­cision on the polit­ic­ally ex­plos­ive pro­ject bey­ond the Novem­ber elec­tions.

A seni­or State De­part­ment of­fi­cial de­clined to provide a re­vised timeline, not­ing the un­cer­tain­ties of the leg­al pro­cess. 

A court de­cision that re­quires a dif­fer­ent route through Neb­raska could al­ter the en­vir­on­ment­al, so­cioeco­nom­ic, and cul­tur­al is­sues that agen­cies are as­sess­ing, the of­fi­cial told re­port­ers on a call.

One en­vir­on­ment­al­ist track­ing the court case said a fi­nal rul­ing may not ar­rive un­til the be­gin­ning of 2015.

“We … be­lieve that the pos­sib­il­ity that Key­stone XL’s fate won’t be de­cided un­til after Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions has in­creased dra­mat­ic­ally,” the con­sult­ing firm Clear­View En­ergy Part­ners said in a note Fri­day.

State’s fi­nal en­vir­on­ment­al re­view, re­leased in late Janu­ary, had opened a 90-day win­dow for oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies to com­ment ahead of a fi­nal White House de­cision. It also brought a large num­ber of pub­lic com­ments that State says it’s weigh­ing.

“Dur­ing this time we will re­view and ap­pro­pri­ately con­sider the un­pre­ced­en­ted num­ber of new pub­lic com­ments, ap­prox­im­ately 2.5 mil­lion, re­ceived dur­ing the pub­lic com­ment peri­od that closed on March 7, 2014,” the de­part­ment said.

Key­stone sup­port­ers slammed the latest delay in what has been a five-year-plus re­view of the pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Al­berta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies.

“Today’s de­cision by the Ad­min­is­tra­tion amounts to noth­ing short of an in­def­in­ite delay of the Key­stone Pipeline. This de­cision is ir­re­spons­ible, un­ne­ces­sary and un­ac­cept­able,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is locked in a tough reelec­tion fight.

The new delay also drew im­me­di­ate cri­ti­cism from Re­pub­lic­ans who are push­ing for Key­stone XL’s ap­prov­al. 

Landrieu and Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Ho­even of North Dakota said the delay will fuel their ef­forts to win a per­mit for Key­stone XL through con­gres­sion­al ac­tion. “I will con­tin­ue to work with my col­leagues to ap­prove this im­port­ant en­ergy pro­ject con­gres­sion­ally rather than let the pres­id­ent de­feat it with end­less delays,” Ho­even said in a state­ment.

An aide to a Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or who op­poses the pipeline said the polit­ic­al im­plic­a­tions of the delay on the ul­ti­mate de­cision are tough to game out, but be­lieves it may make a re­jec­tion more likely.

“Read­ing the tea leaves on how something like this af­fects Key­stone is about as easy as it is to clean up a tar-sands spill. You could make the case that it is good for the op­pon­ents, as it shows the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s will­ing­ness to look at all of the angles to build the best case against it, without en­dan­ger­ing those sen­at­ors who are vul­ner­able to a re­jec­tion de­cision,” the aide said.

“Or you could make the case that this is good for those who want it ap­proved, be­cause they don’t want any ex­cuses left to chal­lenge its con­struc­tion,” the source ad­ded.

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists bit­terly op­pose the pipeline, while oil-in­dustry and busi­ness groups and a num­ber of uni­ons are lob­by­ing in fa­vor of it.

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