Republicans insist the smoldering debate about the Keystone XL oil pipeline isn’t over, but both sides concede the project will remain in limbo until the next president takes office in January 2017.
TransCanada, the company proposing the massive project, said Monday that it theoretically could resubmit its Keystone application in January 2017, assuming the next president is more favorable to new American oil and gas infrastructure projects. Company officials stressed, however, that they have to make that decision.
For now, analysts say, both sides have time to catch their breath and plan their next moves.
“I think we’ll just have to wait and see who the next president is. The fight is dormant until we see the results of the next election,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
President Obama last week announced that he was rejecting Keystone largely on environmental grounds, ending a seven-year federal review process and temporarily halting an unprecedented public relations war between environmentalists who opposed the pipeline and lawmakers of both parties, labor unions and oil and gas sector groups that supported it.
On the flip side, environmentalists have declared a temporary victory but acknowledge that Keystone may rear its head again in 14 months.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has said he would continue pushing for Keystone. But his office Monday wouldn’t commit to new legislation approving the pipeline, saying only as a general matter that Republican lawmakers would fight for infrastructure projects.
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has tried to muscle through a measure approving Keystone and taking the decision out of Mr. Obama’s hands, but the president vetoed the bill and the Republican-led Congress was unable to garner enough support from Democrats to override that veto.
Since the president formally rejected the pipeline — which would have crossed the U.S.-Canada border, connected with existing pipeline infrastructure and transported more than 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil each day to refineries on the Gulf Coast — the issue quickly has faded from the forefront of political discourse in Washington.
But all stakeholders acknowledge the relative silence is temporary.
“Today’s announcement ends action on the federal level, until and if TransCanada re-applies for a presidential permit following the presidential election,” Dave Domina, a lawyer representing Nebraska landowners opposed to Keystone and a former Democratic Senate candidate, said in a statement Friday.
TransCanada also says the fight could continue and that it’s possible, at least as a legal matter, to resurrect Keystone after Mr. Obama leaves office.
“First of all, everything is hypothetical as we determine a path forward and next steps,” company spokesman Mark Cooper said. “Hypothetically speaking, there would be nothing to prevent us from applying for the same route — one that passed every environmental, economic and geopolitical hurdle over seven years, five State Department studies and 17,000 pages of scientific review.”
The Democrats seeking the White House next year — including party front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton — have come out strongly against the pipeline. All Republican candidates support it, meaning it’s likely the project will become an election issue.
As a political matter, Keystone could pose problems for Mrs. Clinton if she becomes the party’s nominee. In addition to garnering support from some Democrats on Capitol Hill, Keystone has the unbridled support of powerful unions such as the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
Some unions even have hinted that Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s opposition to the pipeline could hurt their party in this election cycle.
“My guess is this could really hurt [Mrs. Clinton] in the general election because a lot of these energy issues have been confused with a lot of smoke from the environmentalists. But this is a clear issue. Everybody gets this,” Mr. Ebell said.