President Obama's decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline drew mixed reviews in Montana on Wednesday.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer blamed the Republican governor and legislature in Nebraska for the delay in approving TransCanada's proposed pipeline.
Schweitzer, a Democrat and a strong proponent of the pipeline, called Nebraska's "irrational" decision to change the pipeline route the real reason the administration couldn't immediately sign off on the pipeline. He said Nebraska's action means the Keystone XL route is not complete and that it can't be approved until it is.
"I'm an advocate for the pipeline," he said in telephone call from Washington, D.C., where he was traveling. "If I were the chief executive, I would have to reject it. It's an incomplete proposal."
The legislation that set the Feb. 21 deadline, however, did include language that would allow a permit to be issued so the pipeline could proceed while Nebraska completes its review process.
Schweitzer said Nebraska's concern for its Ogallala Aquifer seemed a little late as farmers drilling wells have drawn down the underground reservoir 200 feet in some areas and 16,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled through it.
He said the U.S. State Department is obligated to look at the whole of the pipeline project before granting approval.
"These jokers in Congress have inserted themselves into an established process and said, 'You have 60 days to approve it,'" Schweitzer said. "Since there's no route, how can you approve it?"
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., called the decision "shameful."
"President Obama had an opportunity to put politics aside and embrace bipartisanship to create jobs," he said in a press release. "Instead, President Obama found an excuse to erect yet another government roadblock to economic recovery.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also a pipeline supporter, said the president's decision was disappointing.
"Just as I have supported Montana's renewable energy jobs, I have long supported responsibly building this pipeline with the highest safety standards and with respect for private property rights," he said in a statement from his office.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., expressed his frustration with the decision, too.
"There is absolutely no reason we cannot start putting Montanans to work on the Keystone XL Pipeline right away," he said. "We've done three years of analysis and worked hard on strict environmental considerations — now it's time to move forward on the jobs and energy security our nation deserves, and I'll keep fighting tooth and nail until that happens."
In a telephone interview from Missoula, Baucus said there is considerable support for the project in Congress and "Congress is going to find a way to further proceed."
"We're going to regroup and try to frame legislation to appropriately provide for a permit," he said.
In Eastern Montana, where the pipeline is expected to add millions of dollars in tax revenues, the decision did not sit well, and the Obama administration took the brunt of the blame.
"You couldn't print what I really think," said Jeannie Barnard, manager of Big Flat Electrical Cooperative in Malta. "I'm disappointed. This is in the best interest of the United States."
Keystone XL, if it is built, will cross a corner of northern Phillips County served by the small rural cooperative. A pump station planned near the Canadian border could double the co-op's business.
"Why wouldn't we want to take oil from Canada?" she said. "We're just a handshake away and it's safe. There are environmental controls in Canada. There are no controls in the Middle East."
She said the pipeline will be approved eventually and that the decision from the White House was politically motivated.
"They can and they should approve that portion of the project that's outside Nebraska," she said. "It's just a ploy on the part of the president."
Janet Wolff, a McCone County commissioner and landowner on the pipeline route, agreed that the decision was political.
"He's made it fairly clear that he knows it will have some bearing on his election and he doesn't want it to happen."
McCone and five other Montana counties along the pipeline route stand to gain millions of dollars in taxes annually if the pipeline is built.
There was some support for the president along the route of the pipeline.
"I'm glad to hear that the president stood with landowners who knew that the impacts on our state from the pipeline have not been adequately analyzed," said Sandy Barnick, whose land is crossed by the pipeline.
She farms outside Glendive and is a member of the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group.
"The president stood on the side of the people as opposed to foreign corporations today," she continued. "I hope this decision sets a precedent that the impacts from a project must be determined before approval."