Once again, the Obama administration took the postpone plan on a final decision for the Keystone XL pipeline, creating more frustration on both sides of the controversial topic. The postponement was announced April 18, and extends the key review period—indefinitely.
Republicans and Democrats alike were outraged by the lack of decision on the proposed Canada to-Texas pipeline.
“Once again, we’re hearing more delays and more uncertainty over the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). “It’s absolutely ridiculous that this well over five-year-long process is continuing for an undetermined amount of time. This most recent delay leaves everyone waiting in limbo—federal agencies, construction and energy workers and companies, state officials, and Canada. It hurts all of us when no decisions are made. I’ll keep pressing the administration for a clear time-frame for the pipeline, as I did just last week with 10 other Democratic senators. But because of this latest delay tactic by the administration, I’ll continue to seriously consider other available options for approval.”
The final decision was under a 90-day review period for federal agencies to assess an environmental study from the State Department.
But the State Department said it is giving agencies more time for the review, in part because of ongoing litigation before the Nebraska Supreme Court, which could affect the pipeline’s route. If the route changes, officials said the State Department could conduct another environmental impact study to include more public comments, which would more than likely add to the delay.
In February, a Nebraska judge 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 fall, and even then, it may require more reviews.
In addition, the department said they were still trying to review some 2.5 million comments from a separate comment period that ended in early March.
“The Permit process will conclude once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated and appropriately reflected in the decision documents,” the department said.
In February, the State Department’s Inspector General cleared the State Department and Environmental Resources Management (ERM) from any conflict of interest in evaluating the Keystone XL pipeline. In January, ERM and the State Department completed the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL pipeline.
Supporters of the pipeline are furious with the continued delay.
“This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D-LA). “By making it clear that they will not move the process forward until there is a resolution in a lawsuit in Nebraska, the administration is sending a signal that the small minority who oppose the pipeline can tie up the process in court forever. There are 42,000 jobs, $20 billion in economic activity and North America’s energy security at stake.”
Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that they were looking at options to get it moving forward, including to “take decisive action to get this pipeline permit approved.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R- AK) called the timing, just prior to the Easter holiday “a stunning act of political cowardice.”
Last year the Senate voted 62-37 on a nonbinding amendment that called for the pipeline’s approval. But the State Department did say that the agency consultation process is not starting over.
TransCanada’s President and Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling expressed his disappointment and frustration with the delay.
“American men and women will miss out on another construction season where they could have worked to build Keystone XL and provided for their families,” he said in a statement.
“We are also disappointed the United States will continue to rely on regimes that are fundamentally opposed to American values for the eight to nine million barrels of oil that is imported every day. A stable, secure supply of oil from Canada and from the U.S. makes better sense and I am sure a majority of Americans agree. Another delay is inexplicable.”
The company is already shipping oil through pipelines to refineries in the St. Louis area, and has been since 2010. According to Girling, that process took just 21 months to study and approve.
“After more than 2,000 days, five exhaustive environmental reviews and over 17,000 pages of scientific data, Keystone XL continues to languish,” Girling said.
Girling points out that the oil will be shipped, if not by pipe, then in truck or rail cars.
“North American oil production is up dramatically and will continue to rise. That means without Keystone, more oil will be shipped by rail and by barge. As the State Department concluded in its recent Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, not approving Keystone XL will lead to higher GHGs through other oil transportation options and greater public risk.
Not building Keystone XL is a lose, lose, lose scenario any way you look at it,” Girling said.
The State Department has jurisdiction because the Canada-to-Texas pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canada border. The drawn-out process has also frustrated America’s allies in Canada.
Canada’s U.S. ambassador Gary Doer said the lack of decision will increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Doer told reporters that the pipeline is safer and would generate fewer emissions. Citing a department study, he said between 28 percent and 42 percent less, than rail or truck.
“Oil is coming from Canada, it’s coming from North Dakota and it’s coming from Montana,” said Doer. “It’s not a question of if it’s going to be harvested, because it is. It’s just a question of how it gets there.”
Just a few days before the announcement, 11 Democrat senators sent a letter to the president urging him to pass the Keystone XL Pipeline permit. The group included Sen. Landrieu, along with Heitkamp, Mark Begich (D-AK), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Walsh (D-MT), and Mark Warner (D-VA).
“This process has been exhaustive in its time, breadth, and scope. It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify… We are writing to request that you use your executive authority to implement an explicit timeline for Secretary of State John Kerry to make a national interest determination on the Keystone XL pipeline permit application. At the expiration of the current 90- day comment and consultation period for certain federal agencies, there should be a date certain no later than 15 days after that date for Secretary Kerry to provide you with his national interest determination recommendation,” the senators wrote. “We cannot miss another construction season, given the long cold winter this year along the Keystone XL route and the time required for ground thaw, we could be looking at a very short season. We need a definitive timeline laid out, a timeline that reduces the comment period for federal agencies, officials and other entities. …The time to act is now, Mr. President.”
Environmental groups and others opposed to the pipeline were relieved by the delay.
“This is definitely great news,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, Senior Vice President for the League of Conservation Voters. “We are very confident as they continue to examine the issues with the lack of legal route in Nebraska and the terrible climate impacts, at the end of the day the pipeline will be rejected.”
Last week, horse riders dressed in native headdresses and cowboy hats road through downtown DC, protesting the pipeline.
“We’re here to show Obama, to show Washington, D.C, the very faces of the people that the decision of the KXL pipeline represents,” Dallas Goldtooth, one of the activists from the Cowboy and Indian Alliance announced after the ride. “These people represent families, they represent communities, they represent entire nations, so they’re here to bring their stories here to say no to the Keystone XL pipeline and to all pipelines.”
State Department officials said other U.S. agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, won’t be notified of their new deadline for comment until the legal situation in Nebraska becomes clearer. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor