A further delay in the evaluation of the pipeline, which already has lasted more than five years, is necessary because of a Nebraska state court decision in February that invalidated part of the project’s route, the
Shortly after the court ruling, administration officials had said the Nebraska case would not have an impact on their deliberations. But in the new statement, the State Department said federal agencies could not evaluate the pipeline's impact until the "uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation" is resolved.
That could take awhile. Nebraska officials have appealed the case to the state Supreme Court but have said they do not expect a ruling until late this year at the earliest.
In the meantime, the latest delay could get President Obama off a politically difficult hook in an election year.
Administration officials have differed on both the substance and the politics of a decision on Keystone, which would carry oil from the tar sands deposits underneath Canada's western prairies to refineries in Texas and Oklahoma.
Opponents say the project would worsen global warming by opening up the tar sands to development. Supporters say it would reduce U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East, Africa and other unstable parts of the world and that Canada will develop the tar sands whether the U.S. approves a pipeline or not.
Obama has said he would approve the project only if it could be proven not to worsen emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. His approval is needed because the pipeline crosses an international border.
Politically, Obama’s advisors have disagreed about the impact on a difficult election season in which Democrats face a strong prospect of losing control of the
Some advisors believe that a decision to kill the pipeline could boost enthusiasm among Democratic activists, which has been lagging. Others argue that since most of the key Senate races are taking place in red states, such as Louisiana, Alaska and Arkansas, a decision against the project could hurt Democratic prospects.
Those political calculations were on display as lawmakers and others reacted to the administration's decision.
"Today's decision by the administration amounts to nothing short of an indefinite delay of the Keystone pipeline," she said, warning that it sends "a signal that the small minority who oppose the pipeline can tie up the process in court forever."
Another conservative Democrat,
"It hurts all of us when no decisions are made," she said in a statement.
Republicans and the oil industry quickly denounced the decision.
“At a time of high unemployment in the Obama economy, it’s a shame,” said Senate Republican leader
“It’s a sad day for America’s workers when politics trumps job-creating policy at the White House,”
Russ Girling, chief executive of
Environmental groups were thrilled. The League of Conservation Voters hailed the delay as "great news" that "makes us even more confident that the harmful Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will ultimately be rejected."