Obama Rebuffs Democratic Senators, Stalls Keystone Pipeline Decision

Published April 23, 2014

President Barack Obama announced he is indefinitely punting a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, rebuffing 11 Democratic Senators who sent him a letter urging him to finally make a decision. Supporters of the pipeline say it would improve the U.S. economy and national energy security by delivering affordable oil from western Canada.

Call for Decision
“We are writing to request that you use your executive authority to implement an explicit timeline for Secretary of State John Kerry to make a national interest determination on the Keystone XL pipeline permit application,” the Democratic senators wrote on April 10. “At the expiration of the current 90-day comment and consultation period for certain federal agencies, there should be a date certain no later than 15 days after that date for Secretary Kerry to provide you with his national interest determination recommendation. Finally, we ask that you commit to making your final decision on the permit application no later than May 31, 2014.”

On April 18, however, the Obama administration announced it would no longer abide by the 90-day comment period and would extent indefinitely the time for various federal agencies to weigh in on the pipeline. The State Department claimed it was extending the comment period because of uncertainty about the proposed pipeline route in Nebraska.

“Agencies need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the on-going litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in that state,” the State Department announced.

Activists opposing the pipeline proposal have filed a lawsuit in the Nebraska court system challenging the proposed pipeline route.

Heitkamp Slams ‘Ridiculous’ Delays
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) slammed the Obama administration for endless delays in the process.

“Once again, we’re hearing more delays and more uncertainty over the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Heitkamp in a press statement. “It’s absolutely ridiculous that this well-over-five-year-long process is continuing for an undetermined amount of time.”

“This most recent delay leaves everyone waiting in limbo—federal agencies, construction and energy workers and companies, state officials, and Canada,” Heitkamp said.

Landrieu’s Credibility at Stake
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) issued a press statement calling the new delay “irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable.”

Landrieu, who is facing a tough reelection battle this year, claims her position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gives her a unique ability to influence President Obama and Senate Democrats to support energy production and projects like the Keystone pipeline.

“By making it clear that they will not move the process forward until there is a resolution in a lawsuit in Nebraska, the administration is sending a signal that the small minority who oppose the pipeline can tie up the process in court forever,” said Landrieu.

Ample Time Cited
The 11 Democratic senators emphasized in their letter that the Obama administration has had ample time to make a decision.

“This is a process that has now gone on well past five years, has involved two applications, five federal reviews, multiple open comment periods, and numerous opportunities for consultation and comment at either public forums or at staff-level meetings,” the senators observed.

The senators signing the letter were Heitkamp, Landrieu, Mark Begich (D-AK), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Walsh (D-MT), and Kay Hagan (D-NC).

Democrats Tout Economic Benefits
The Democratic senators noted the State Department’s January 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement found construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs and supply-demand scenarios.

“This process has been exhaustive in time, breadth, and scope,” the letter summarized. “It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify. This is an international project that will provide our great friend and ally Canada, a direct route to our refineries. These refineries were specifically built to process and refine heavy crude, and Canadian crude will help replace heavy crude imports from unstable and unfriendly countries like Venezuela.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.