Reaction to news that the State Department would take more time to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project was swift and predictable.
“On April 18, 2014, the Department of State notified the eight federal agencies specified in Executive Order 13337 we will provide more time for the submission of their views on the proposed Keystone Pipeline Project,” the State Department said. “State 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 sought to make clear that it would take time to review roughly 2.5 million public comments, but that the window for such comments wouldn’t be extended itself.
“The agency consultation process is not starting over. The process is ongoing, and the Department and relevant agencies are actively continuing their work in assessing the Permit application,” the State Department said.
The announcement of a delay played out in perfect news dump fashion: The news came on the afternoon of Good Friday through a conference call with Capitol Hill, multiple congressional sources confirmed.
“On a day when many Americans are observing Good Friday and preparing for Easter, the administration took the opportunity to quietly announce yet another Keystone delay despite the five successful environmental reviews of the energy project,” South Dakota GOP Sen. John Thune said in a statement.
As usual, criticism of the latest news was not partisan. A significant band of Democrats from energy-producing states support the pipeline development. That includes North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who was one of the leaders on a recent letter to President Barack Obama seeking expedited review.
“Once again, we’re hearing more delays and more uncertainty over the Keystone XL pipeline,’ said Heitkamp. “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 then mentioned the possibility of working around the Obama administration.
“But because of this latest delay tactic by the Administration, I’ll continue to seriously consider other available options for approval,” Heitkamp said.
One choice could be an amendment to direct the pipeline’s approval, perhaps as an offering to a bipartisan energy efficiency bill introduced by Democratic Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
The oft-delayed Shaheen-Portman measure has long been the rumored vehicle for the Keystone vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has told reporters the bill’s on his agenda for the next work period, but a Reid aide said it was too soon to know if Keystone could be part of the amendment process for the measure.
Reid has consistently precluded the offering of contentious amendments on the floor, using procedural tools at his disposal as majority leader.
Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., said in her own statement that she planned a new push, saying she planned to use her gavel “to take decisive action to get this pipeline permit approved.”
“Today’s decision by the Administration amounts to nothing short of an indefinite delay of the Keystone Pipeline. This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” Landrieu said. “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. There are 42,000 jobs, $20 billion in economic activity and North America’s energy security at stake.”
Democrats like Heitkamp and Landrieu are aligned with their Senate GOP counterparts on the pipeline issue.
“It is crystal clear that the Obama administration is simply not serious about American energy and American jobs. I guess he wasn’t serious about having a pen and a phone, either,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in his own statement.
“At a time of high unemployment in the Obama economy, it’s a shame that the administration has delayed the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline for years. 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,” the Kentucky Republican added. “Apparently radical activists carry more weight than Americans desperate to get back on the job. More jobs left behind in the Obama economy.”