WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is putting off its decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, likely until after the November elections, by extending its review of the controversial project indefinitely.
In a surprise announcement Friday as Washington was winding down for Easter, the State Department said federal agencies will have more time to weigh in on the politically fraught decision, but declined to say how much longer. Officials said the decision will have to wait for the dust to settle in Nebraska, where a judge in February overturned a state law that allowed the pipeline’s path through the state.
Nebraska’s Supreme Court isn’t expected to hear an appeal to that ruling until September or October, and there could be more legal maneuvering after the high court rules. So President Barack Obama will almost surely have until after the November congressional elections to make the final call about whether the pipeline carrying oil from Canada should be built.
Approving the pipeline before the election would rankle Obama’s allies and donors in the environmental community, but nixing it could be politically damaging to vulnerable Democrats running this year in conservative-leaning areas.
“This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who faces a difficult re-election in oil-rich Louisiana. Landrieu said Obama was signaling that a small minority can tie up the process in the courts, sacrificing 42,000 jobs and billions in economic activity.
In an ironic show of bipartisanship, Republicans joined Landrieu and other Democrats like Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska in immediately condemning the announcement – the latest in a string of delays in a review process that has dragged on for more than five years.
Keystone XL would carry oil from western Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The project requires State Department approval because it crosses an international border. The State Department vowed to move forward with other aspects of its review even while the situation in Nebraska remains in limbo.
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