The State Dept. announced on April 18 that it would delay a decision on whether to approve building the controversial 1,179-mile-long portion of the pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb., in part because of uncertainty over a court case making its way through Nebraska courts over the pipeline’s route.
Department officials did not say when a decision would be issued.
In February, a Nebraska judge ruled that Gov. Dave Heineman (R) did not have the authority to approve the route through the state that pipeline builder TransCanada had proposed. The judge said that authority rests with the state’s Public Service Commission. If the Nebraska Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling, the project could be put on hold indefinitely.
Reaction to the State Dept. announcement was swift. Industry groups and organized labor criticized the administration, arguing that the delay is based on politics, and some Democrats' vulnerability in the November elections, more than on concerns about the national interest.
But environmental advocates contend that the administration needs time to go through the more than two million comments it received so it can make a careful decision.
The State Dept. on Jan. 31 released a lengthy report analyzing the project's environmental impact. Other federal agencies had 90 days to file their comments on the study, a period that was to end in early May. That had raised hopes that a final determination would be coming soon after that date.
Stephen Sandherr, Associated General Contractors of America president and CEO, says that the delay will mean “another construction season wasted” for a shovel-ready project.
“There is no environmental reason not to do it. The administration’s own State Dept. has acknowledged that there would be no net increase in global emissions if this pipeline were built,” Sandherr says. Moreover, it is safer to transport oil and natural gas via pipeline than by rail, he says.
Sean McGarvey, North America's Building Trades Unions president, called the postponement "a cold, hard slap in the face for hard-working Americans who are literally waiting for President Obama's approval and the tens of thousands of jobs it wil generate."
Terry O’Sullivan, Laborers’ International Union of North America general president, also decried the delay. “Once again, the Administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country," O'Sullivan said in a statement.
"This is another low blow to the working men and women of our country for whom the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline to good jobs and energy security,” he added.
However, Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director, said, "President Obama said he would take his time to make a considered decision whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and that appears to be exactly what he's doing."
Brune added, "The president said that he would not approve Keystone XL if it contributed significantly to climate disruption, and it is certain that it will. The longer we wait the more clear it becomes: the pipeline is not in the nation's best interest.”
Workers last year completed a more than 400-mile-long segment of the pipeline, from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico. It began transporting oil in January. That section of the pipeline did not require a presidential permit.