WASHINGTON — After an environmental review cleared the way for the Keystone XL pipeline, the Obama administration found itself in the hot seat as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called for the president to finally make a decision on the long-stalled project.
Today, a state court in Nebraska gave Obama a timely out that could result in at least a yearlong delay.
Three Nebraska property owners filed suit to block the pipeline’s path through their state, and a judge ruled that a 2012 law giving the governor power to approve the pipeline over the state’s Public Service Commission was unconstitutional. The state attorney general indicated that they will appeal the ruling.
“We have not yet reviewed today’s court ruling, but we recognize that Nebraska has to work through its process on this very important energy project for America. We believe, however, that the environmental concerns in Nebraska, and in every other state through which the pipeline will pass, have been addressed,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a key proponent of the project in Congress.
“Because the state of Nebraska made a thorough review of the alternative route, we would expect the Nebraska Public Service Commission to make the same decision as the governor in approving the new route and to do so in a timely manner,” Hoeven added.
“Following the release two weeks ago of the State Department’s fifth and final favorable Environmental Impact Statement, the Keystone XL pipeline’s good environmental stewardship and safety are well established, and the president should approve it. The State Department should now come forward promptly with a determination of the national interest based on the merits and importance of this much-needed energy infrastructure project for the nation.”
Congress isn’t the only entity getting impatient with Obama on Keystone. Before a meeting with the president today in Mexico, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with leaders of TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline project.
Harper said he’d raise Keystone with Obama “in private as I’ve done every time I’ve met him over the past couple of years.”
A couple of weeks ago, Harper said Obama had “punted” on the Keystone decision.
“It is my hope that the administration will in due course see its way to take the appropriate decision, but that’s obviously a political process in the United States,” the prime minister told a trade forum. “The good news is that on both sides of the aisle, in both political parties, in both houses, and throughout the American economy and public, there is widespread support for the project.”
Bob Schulz, a University of Calgary business professor, told Bloomberg that the ruling gave both Obama and the State Department breathing room. “Why would they decide if they don’t have to decide?” Schulz said. “I think he’s going to push it back another year.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Mexico that Obama would tell Harper “the same thing that he and I and others have said publicly, which is this a process that is run out of the State Department in keeping with past practice of administrations of both parties.”
“We have reached a stage in that process with the release of the environmental impact statement. We’re now in a phase where there is input from agencies — others agencies and from the public, and that that process needs to be insulated from politics — that’s the president’s view — and that he will explain that to both leaders. I’m sure they’re fully aware of that dynamic,” Carney said.
When asked about Keystone at a National Press Club luncheon today, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz laughed off the fact that Keystone dominated the question cards submitted by the audience.
“I will not be making news in this case. The — my opinion and my statements of fact is of course Secretary Kerry, the Department of State has responsibility for making this public interest determination, and we look forward to his doing so,” Moniz said.
Bold Nebraska, an anti-pipeline group that has helped raise more than $20,000 for the lawsuit, lauded the ruling. “We beat a corrupt bill that Gov. Heineman and the Nebraska Legislature passed in order to pave the way for a foreign corporation to run roughshod over American landowners,” director Jane Kleeb said in a statement. “We look forward to the Public Service Commission giving due process to a route that TransCanada will have to now submit to this proper regulatory body in Nebraska. TransCanada learned a hard lesson today: never underestimate the power of family farmers and ranchers protecting their land and water.”
Records indicate that Kleeb was at the White House for a meeting in 2011. Kleeb, who also led a statewide promotional effort to support Obamacare’s passage through Congress, started the anti-pipeline group in 2010.
The three plaintiffs on the lawsuit are landowners Susan Dunavan, Suz Straka and Randy Thompson. “It saddens me that Gov. Heinemen, [Attorney General] Jon Bruning and [state] Senator Jim Smith have half a brain to think we would stand by and let them take the law into their own hands,” Straka said. “This is an immense victory against eminent domain for every rancher, farmer, and citizen this bill would have negatively affected.”
Sierra Club is also lobbying hard against the project. “President Obama vowed to reject the pipeline if the project would ‘significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.’ The facts are clear: Keystone XL fails President Obama’s climate test,” says the group’s petition drive. “But Big Oil won’t give up, so we can’t stop until we finish this. We need to flood the White House with emails telling President Obama to keep his pledge and reject Keystone XL.”