Proponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have complained that election-year politics is behind President Barack Obama’s recent decision to hold off on approval of the $5.4 billion project.
On April 18, the Obama Administration announced that it was delaying approval of the pipeline, citing a Nebraska lawsuit as the reason.
Not surprisingly, the decision drew swift criticism from pipeline supporters, but praise from environmental groups.
In fact, Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., called on Congress to sidestep the president’s approval. Walsh has filed legislation that would take the president out of the decision-making process and leave the State Department to expedite review of permits necessary for completion of the Keystone pipeline and other energy-related projects.
Walsh, who was appointed to the post vacated by former Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., earlier this year, called his legislation the “Removing RED TAPE Act.”
The Keystone XL project would include an on-ramp to be built near Baker that would allow Bakken crude to be shipped on the pipeline. The project is popular among Montana’s statewide elected officials, who say that the state would reap millions of dollars in additional tax revenues if it’s built.
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, who is Walsh's likely opponent in November's Senate election, said politics is at the heart of the delay.
“President Obama has made it abundantly clear that he will do everything possible to block this job-creating project,” Daines said.
"If we made decisions on permits this way in Montana, our economy would grind to a halt," said Gov. Steve Bullock.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said it is time for the U.S. government to approve building a pipeline with respect for private-property rights and to the highest safety standards.
“We are extremely disappointed and frustrated with yet another delay,” said Russ Girling, chief executive officer of TransCanada. “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. We feel for them.”
Other lawmakers have expressed dismay over the delay.
“This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat.
Opponents of the pipeline supported the delay, saying TransCanada Corp.'s proposed link between Canada’s oil sands and U.S. Gulf Coast refineries would contribute to global warming.
Eight federal agencies that had until early May to comment on the proposed pipeline will now get more time, according to a statement from the State Department, which is conducting the review to determine whether Keystone is in the nation’s interest to build. The notice didn’t include a new deadline.
“We are disappointed that politics continue to delay a decision on Keystone XL,” Jason MacDonald, communications director, for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said in a statement.
The American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group for the oil and gas industry, said the delay “is not in our national interest” and said studies support building the pipeline. The group said Congress should take action without waiting for Obama.
“It’s a sad day for America’s workers when politics trumps job-creating policy at the White House,” said Jack Gerard, president of the group.
The Natural Resources Defense Council welcomed the delay, calling it “the most prudent course of action possible.”
“Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the International Program at the council.
Jim Murphy, a counsel at the National Wildlife Federation, said the decision “shows the problems with the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline continue to grow.”