WASHINGTON – The State Department’s announcement that it is postponing a decision on the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline has drawn condemnation from both sides of the political aisle, with criticism of the delay ranging from “shameful” to “a stunning act of political cowardice.”

The pronouncement, issued late on the Friday before Easter when the public’s attention was elsewhere – something of a tradition in Washington when the news could be considered controversial – cited the need to wait on a Nebraska state court decision regarding the ultimate pipeline route and obtain additional comments from governmental agencies.

A State Department official, who provided background to reporters in a Friday conference call, stressed that the proposed route may change as a result of the Nebraska district court decision, a move that would require additional environmental study.

“The prudent decision was to allow additional time,” the official said.

Recommendations on how or when to proceed with the pipeline are in the hands of the State Department since it is a multinational project that also involves Canada.

At issue is a complaint filed by three landowners who reside along the proposed pipeline route who are challenging a state law that provided Gov. Dave Heineman the authority to approve the project. The District Court sided with the landowners, maintaining that the decision actually rests with the Nebraska Public Service Commission, created in 1885 to remove politics from railroad condemnation decisions.

The case is headed for the Nebraska Supreme Court. In the meantime, the Obama administration intends to play the waiting game, an unpopular decision in some quarters.

“It is crystal clear that the Obama administration is simply not serious about American energy and American jobs,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.

“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,” McConnell said. “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.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the move “shameful” and accused President Obama of caving in to environmental interests who oppose pipeline construction.

“With tens of thousands of American jobs on the line and our allies in Eastern Europe looking for energy leadership from America, it’s clear there is little this administration isn’t willing to sacrifice for politics,” Boehner said. “For no reason other than the president’s refusal to stand up to the extreme left, good-paying jobs and North American energy remain out of reach. This job-creating project has cleared every environmental hurdle and overwhelmingly passed the test of public opinion, yet it’s been blocked for more than 2,000 days.”

This time Republicans weren’t alone in chiding the president. Three Democratic senators facing tough re-election campaigns – Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, Sen. Mark Pryor, of Arkansas, and Sen. Mark Begich, of Alaska – questioned the administration’s decision.

Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was particularly critical, asserting the “indefinite delay” was “irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable.”

“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,” Landrieu said. “There are 42,000 jobs, $20 billion in economic activity and North America’s energy security at stake.”

Pryor maintained “there’s no excuse for another delay.”

“The President needs to approve this project now to ensure our future energy security and create jobs here at home,” he said.

And Begich added that he is “frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project.”

The Keystone pipeline is a project of TransCanada Corp., an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta, with a projected cost of $5.4 billion. It primarily is intended to transport oil sands bitumen – sands saturated with a viscous form of petroleum — from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

Two phases covering 2,151 miles already are operating, one from Hardisty, Alberta, to Patoka, Ill., and a second from Steele City, Neb., to Cushing, Okla. A third phase under construction will run from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast.

The pipeline system currently in operation can move up to 590,000 barrels of the crude Canadian oil to refineries in the American Midwest per day.

It is a proposed fourth phase that is drawing controversy. TransCanada wants to run a 1,661-mile pipeline from Hardisty crossing over the border into Morgan, Mont., to move 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day. If approved, it will terminate in Steele City, where the oil will enter the other pipelines.