- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2014

A leading Republican governor claimed Monday that President Obama will make a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline within “a couple of months,” but the White House refused to confirm the story and added even more uncertainty to the already murky future of the $7 billion project.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who is chairman of the National Governors Association, met with the president behind closed doors Monday and advocated for the project, which has broad bipartisan support across much of the country and has been under federal review for five years.

“I did ask the president when we could anticipate a decision on the Keystone pipeline … Finally he did come back and said he anticipates an answer one way or the other in a couple months,” she said.

But the White House deferred all questions to the State Department and wouldn’t confirm or deny Mrs. Fallin’s account. The administration’s lack of answers piled yet another layer of confusion to Keystone, which is in a state of legal limbo following a Nebraska court decision last week that at least temporarily nullifies the pipeline’s route through the state.

“This process is with the State Department,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday, following Ms. Fallin’s claim. “There are steps in that process that have taken place. There are more steps that need to take place in keeping with the kind of timetable that’s been in existence in reviews like these for many administrations of both parties.”

The State Department is continuing its review of Keystone, which would transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil each day south from Alberta, Canada, through the U.S. heartland en route to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

State already has issued an environmental impact study that found the pipeline won’t significantly increase greenhouse-gas emissions. The study now is in a 90-day public comment period, after which State will decide whether Keystone is in the “national interest.” Following that, Mr. Obama had been expected to make the final call.

Meanwhile, the State Department says it is monitoring Keystone’s legal status in Nebraska, but is moving ahead with its review.

In addition to the confusion at the White House, Monday also saw both sides of the Keystone debate trade public shots over whether the pipeline technically has a legal route through Nebraska right now.

A decision last week by Nebraska Judge Stephanie Stacy invalidated the route and said that the state’s Public Service Commission, not Republican Gov. Dave Heineman, must approve the path. Her ruling in a case brought by three Nebraska landowners invalidated a 2011 law that gave the governor that power. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has appealed that decision.

In a statement Monday, TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline, argued that the route still is valid pending further legal review and the federal government should continue its work.

“This latest development concerning Keystone XL is a solvable problem and we are undeterred,” the company said.

Dave Domina, the attorney representing the Nebraska landowners who brought the lawsuit, said the federal government cannot effectively evaluate a pipeline that may have no legal route through the state.

“The State Department and president cannot know what route the pipeline will follow, or whether TransCanada will be deemed competent to operate a pipeline, when and if it applies for permission to do so under a valid Nebraska procedure,” he said.

Mr. Obama still could make a decision on Keystone even before the Nebraska Public Service Commission issues its determination, according to Laura Demman, director of the commission’s natural gas department. If Mr. Obama were to approve Keystone, the commission would have to make its decision within eight months, Ms. Demman said.