- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

President Obama on Wednesday retained his authority to make the final call on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, rejecting pleas to delay the State Department’s review of the project and sparking a backlash among critics who say the administration’s decision-making process has been corrupted by politics.

State Department officials said late Wednesday afternoon they’ll ignore calls from the company proposing the project, energy giant TransCanada, because the review process has come too far to be stopped now. The decision all but guarantees Mr. Obama, who has sounded skeptical of Keystone’s merit and reportedly is leaning toward killing the pipeline, will be the one to decide whether the project moves ahead or is scrapped.

Environmentalists quickly praised the move, which seems to eliminate the possibility a potential Republican president — who surely would be more favorable to new domestic oil-and-gas projects than Mr. Obama — would be the one to decide Keystone’s fate.

“The process is fairly mature, and the secretary believes that, out of respect for that process and all the input that has gone into it, that it is the most appropriate thing to keep that process in place, to continue the review,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said, referring to Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

Earlier this week, TransCanada — which said Wednesday it respects the State Department’s decision but believes the project ultimately must be approved — asked the administration to halt its study until legal questions about the pipeline’s proposed route through Nebraska are answered.

In making its request, TransCanada pointed to past precedent set by Mr. Obama.
Last year the State Department temporarily stopped its Keystone review while lawsuits challenging the project’s path through Nebraska worked their way through the courts.

At the time the administration said it simply couldn’t conduct a thorough review with so many outstanding questions.

This time, however, the State Department appears content to continue its work despite a multitude of uncertainties and a Nebraska regulatory review process that’s just beginning and could take up to a year to complete.

The seeming double standard has led critics to charge that Mr. Obama is looking for reasons to reject Keystone.

“President Obama has made clear that he has no intention of approving the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican. “The State Department’s rejection of TransCanada’s request to suspend the Keystone application’s review is just another political move in the Obama administration’s long-standing war on American energy. Once again President Obama is working directly against American energy independence, American jobs and the will of the American people.”

The project, which has been under review since the day Mr. Obama came to office, would connect to existing pipeline infrastructure in the U.S. and transport more than 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil each day to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline requires presidential approval because it would cross an international boundary.

Keystone has divided key parts of Mr. Obama’s political base, with environmental activists mounting an unprecedented campaign to demonize and ultimately stop the project, while powerful labor unions strongly back the pipeline and say it will create jobs, promote North American energy independence and fuel economic growth.

Wednesday’s decision delighted environmentalists who view it as a strong hint that Mr. Obama will stop Keystone once and for all before he leaves office.

“That has to hurt. The State Department recognized TransCanada’s request for what is: a brazen political attempt to pause a process that long ago should have reached the inevitable conclusion that Keystone XL is a climate disaster and cannot be approved,” said Jamie Henn, communications director with the climate change activist group 350.org. “Now that he’s called TransCanada for delay of game, it’s time for President Obama to blow the whistle and end this pipeline once and for all.”

Earlier this week White House officials said the president intends to make a decision before he leaves office in January 2017.

Meanwhile, TransCanada continues to push the project while working through a new set of legal and regulatory challenges in Nebraska, which has become ground zero in the Keystone fight.

Earlier this year the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld Keystone’s proposed route through the state following lawsuits from landowners and environmental activists. Those lawsuits had challenged the constitutionality of Nebraska laws that facilitated pipeline approval.

Since then new legal questions have cropped up.

Faced with years of court battles, the company this year abandoned attempts to exercise eminent domain rights over private land in Nebraska, which would have been taken and used for the project.

Instead, TransCanada decided to seek new approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission, a tactic that would allow the company to bypass lawsuits from individual landowners who objected to their land being seized for the project.

The latest state review process is expected to take at least seven months, perhaps as long as a year, to complete, and TransCanada argued the State Department can’t conduct an effective review process until the Nebraska studies are complete.

Despite Wednesday’s decision from the administration, TransCanada says the project — which will create more than 40,000 jobs, according to State Department research — must move forward.

“Every test, every hurdle has been satisfied. If the decision on a presidential permit for Keystone XL is based on its merits and on science over symbolism it will be approved,” the company said in a statement.

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