Keystone XL Now Delayed Indefinitely
Two months after getting a green light from the U.S. State Department, the off-again, on-again Keystone XL project has hit a new red one. Or, at least, a long yellow.
The agency announced Friday (April 18) that it was indefinitely extending the time for eight federal agencies to review the 1,179-mile project, which has been on the books since 2008.
The surprise announcement drew fire from all along the political spectrum, the government of Canada, and pipeline owner TransCanada Corp.
Although no new deadline was given, there is widespread agreement that the issue is now dead until at least after the U.S. midterm elections in November.
4 Reviews, 4M+ Comments
The State Department announced the new delay just 10 weeks after releasing an 11-volume Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Final Supplemental EIS) that expressed no major concerns about the $5.8 billion project.
That was the department's fourth review of the project and reflected more than 1.9 million public comments.
Now, the State Department says, it must review an additional 2.5 million comments that were submitted during the public comment period that closed March 7.
The project requires a Presidential Permit because the pipeline would originate in western Canada and cross the U.S. border at Morgan, MT, before traveling south to a terminus in the Gulf Coast.
Upheaval in Nebraska
The State Department announcement also cited "uncertainty created by the on-going litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in that state."
|U.S. State Dept.|
The proposed line has been rerouted around environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska, but opposition by landowners has thrown the issue into the courts.
The Nebraska case involves a lawsuit by three landowners who are challenging the constitutionality of a 2012 state pipeline siting law that gave the governor and state environmental regulators the authority to approve the pipeline's revised route through Nebraska.
The landowners said that decision belonged to Nebraska's Public Service Commission and that the bill was essentially written by TransCanada.
In February, Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy sided with the landowners in a 50-page order. State Attorney General Jon Bruning immediately announced his intention to appeal, and the case is now before the state Supreme Court. Bruning's appeal stays the lower-court decision, leaving the law in effect for now.
Nevertheless, the State Department says it cannot allow the project to proceed while the controversial, environmentally sensitive Nebraska segment is tied up in litigation.
The delay infuriated Republicans, some oil-state Democrats, and labor unions. Critics of the Obama Administration called the extension a ploy to remove the pipeline from the 2014 campaign agenda.
“Yesterday, the president had the audacity to stand at the podium at the White House press office and lecture Republicans in Congress about the need to make tough decisions," Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) said in a statement.
"But today, he punted a tough decision in the name of political expediency.”
White House protests in 2011 derailed the original 2008 pipeline proposal.
The State Department denied the accusation and insisted that it was not stonewalling the project. "The agency consultation process is not starting over," the department said in its announcement.
"The process is ongoing, and the Department and relevant agencies are actively continuing their work in assessing the Permit application."
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said, "I know there's a great urge, and has always been, to make this about politics, but we've seen along this process—along the way here, along the route, a series of actions taken in keeping with past practice where the reviews are done out of the State Department."
'Disappointed and Frustrated'
TransCanada president Russ Girling released a statement calling the new delay "inexplicable." Girling said the Nebraska litigation was being "managed appropriately."
"We are extremely disappointed and frustrated with yet another 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," Girling said. "We feel for them.
President Obama spoke at TransCanada facility in March 2012 in favor of expanding U.S. oil and gas pipelines.
"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."
Labor unions that have supported the pipeline project for its employment potential were also outraged.
“This is once again politics at its worst,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
“In another gutless move, the administration is delaying a finding on whether the pipeline is in the national interest based on months-old litigation in Nebraska regarding a state level challenge to a state process—and which has nothing to with the national interest.”
Environmental groups, on the other hand, still want the project canceled altogether.
More coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline project is available at these links.
Keystone XL Clears State Dept. Report (Feb. 4, 2014)
EPA Rips State Dept.’s Pipeline Review (April 25, 2013)
Keystone XL Applicants Try, Try Again (May 8, 2012)
Obama Nixes XL Pipeline Project (Jan. 19, 2012)
Keystone XL Pipeline Stalled, Rerouted (Nov. 15, 2011)
State Dept. Clears Way for XL Pipeline (Aug. 29, 2011)
Legislators, EPA Slam XL Pipeline Plan (June 8, 2011)