The State Department put a hold on the Keystone XL pipeline application Friday, delaying the controversial project until after a Nebraska court case is concluded and once again halting the controversial project that has dogged President Obama's second term.
A Nebraska judge ruled earlier this year that the state cut corners in its permitting process for the pipeline, which left the project in limbo there, even as the federal government was still considering whether to approve the pipeline.
Keystone would bring crude oil from Canada's oil shale deposits into the U.S. for refinement. Critics fear the environmental repercussions, while advocates said it would be a major economic and energy boost.
"Here's the single greatest shovel-ready project in America — one that could create thousands of jobs right away — but the president simply isn't interested," Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said after Friday's decision. "Apparently radical activists carry more weight than Americans desperate to get back on the job. More jobs left behind in the Obama economy."
Other critics focused on the geopolitical significance of the decision, amid the energy-fueled fights between Russia and Eastern Europe.
"The Canadians will be disappointed but Vladimir Putin will be rejoicing," said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research. "President Obama is proving that on energy security, he is a weakling."
Mr. Obama has been under pressure from some Democrats on Capitol Hill to approve the pipeline as a major jobs and energy security project. Just last week, nearly a dozen Senate Democrats wrote Mr. Obama asking him to approve the pipeline by the end of May.
"It hurts all of us when no decisions are made," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Democrat and one of those who wrote Mr. Obama.
She said she'll keep pressing for a firm timeline from the White House, but "because of this latest delay tactic by the Administration, I'll continue to seriously consider other available options for approval."
Environmentalists, though, have rallied against Keystone, saying oil derived from shale is particularly bad for global warming. So far they have prevailed on Mr. Obama.
"This is great news!" Tiernan Sittenfeld, a senior vice president at the League of Conservation Voters, said after the Friday announcement. "Today's announcement by the State Department that it is extending the comment period makes us even more confident that the harmful Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will ultimately be rejected."
In the run-up to the 2012 election, Mr. Obama rejected the pipeline application, bowing to environmentalists who said it threatened sensitive lands in Nebraska. TransCanada Corporation proposed a new route, and that is what's currently being debated at both the federal level and in Nebraska.
Friday's decision by the State Department puts a hold on the 90-day public comment period for the pipeline, which began in January after the State Department issued a report finding that the project wouldn't substantially increase global greenhouse gas emissions.
The State Department is involved because the pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canadian border.
TransCanada said it was disingenuous for the Obama administration to blame the Nebraska court case for the delay. The Nebraska judge's ruling has been stayed pending appeal, which means that the current route permit remains in effect.
"Our view remains that the current 90-day National Interest Determination process that is now underway should not be impacted by the Nebraska lower court ruling since the approved re-route remains valid during appeal," TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling said in a statement.
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