The State Department said Thursday that it will delay consideration of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to study alternative routes, addressing what it termed were environmental concerns about a posssible path through Nebraska’s Sand Hills region.
The extended review will push the approval process to early 2013—past next year’s presidential election.
President Obama quickly issued a statement in support of the decision.
“Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood,” Obama said.
House Speaker John Boehner blasted the delay, contending Obama was simply trying to appease environmental groups that had sparked an outcry over the project.
“More than 20,000 new American jobs have just been sacrificed in the name of political expediency,” Boehner said. “By punting on this project, the president has made clear that campaign politics are driving U.S. policy decisions--at the expense of American jobs. The current project has already been deemed environmentally sound, and calling for a new route is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to avoid upsetting the president’s political base before the election.”
Nebraska’s Republican governor, Dave Heineman, recently came out against the path of the proposed pipeline extension, which would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The Sand Hills region, the State Department said in a statement, has a “high concentration of wetlands, a sensitive ecosystem, and extensive areas of very shallow groundwater.”
The administration said it would try to balance not only the enviromental impact, but also "energy security, economic impacts and foreign policy."
Until recently, the plan to pipe crude from Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries appeared to be moving toward approval. In order to proceed, the project needs a permit from the State Department allowing it to cross a national border.
But the issue has become a major rallying point for environmentalists, who object to the extraction from oil sands because of the greenhouse gases it produces. They’re threatening to retaliate against Obama’s reelection campaign.
On the other side, though, is another important Democratic constituency. Labor leaders have joined ranks with business in pressuring the Obama administration to approve a permit because of the jobs it would create.
Christi Parsons of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.