The PJ Tatler

Even as TransCanada Suspends Application, Obama Raring to Pass Keystone Judgment

The builder of the Keystone XL pipeline has requested a suspension of its cross-border permit application with the State Department — but the Obama administration still seems determined to cast a verdict on the project’s prospects.

“We are asking State to pause its review of Keystone XL based on the fact that we have applied to the Nebraska Public Service Commission for approval of its preferred route in the state,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement Monday. “I note that when the status of the Nebraska pipeline route was challenged last year, the State Department found it appropriate to suspend its review until that dispute was resolved. We feel under the current circumstances a similar suspension would be appropriate.”

That Nebraska review period is expected to take 7 to 12 months.

The company made its request in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, and State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters today, “We will issue a response, but we’re going to continue our review process.”

“We would like to finish this review process as swiftly as possible,” she said of the years-long review. “…The secretary has made clear that he wants to see this process through. We’re going to continue it. While we respond to the letter, I’m not going to get ahead of what that response is.”

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama’s goal to make a decision by the end of his presidency “continues to be the current plan, even as we evaluate their request and consider the reasoning behind it.”

“We’ve talked about how aggressively advocates on both sides of this issue have politicized this particular infrastructure project. I would venture to say that there’s probably no infrastructure project in the history of the United States that’s been as politicized as this one, although I wasn’t around for the intercontinental railroad. Maybe there were some partisan politics associated with that,” Earnest quipped.

“But this one certainly has been infused with politics. And, my experience, when things are worthy of technical consideration get politicized, that rarely speeds up the technical consideration. That typically has the effect of — of slowing it down. So I think there are a number of contributing factors, and I think the president has worked hard to try to ensure that the eventual determination is one that is focused on the merits — on the merits of the application.”

Earnest noted the reason why the company likely fears that 11th-hour decision from an outgoing Obama: “The president himself has talked about how — you know, part of what will be factored into consideration is the impact that this project would have on — on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon pollution. So that certainly will be a part of the consideration here.”

“So I guess what I would say is there’s no doubt that there have been a series of delays for reasons relating to politics and legalities, but there’s also been a delay based on a desire to shield this process from politics, so that the merits can be appropriately considered,” he claimed.

Asked why Obama doesn’t just make a decision now — which could affect his party in 2016 — Earnest replied, “I think in large part it’s because he doesn’t want this process to be inappropriately influenced by political posturing on either side, frankly.”

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said of TransCanada’s move that “it is clear President Obama was going to deny the permit.”

“The costly delay has prevented the company from proceeding on a new pipeline that would have brought oil from Canada and the Bakken to U.S. refineries and jobs and revenue to local communities,” said Hoeven.

“If the long delay hasn’t already had a chilling effect on the willingness of other companies to invest in important energy infrastructure projects in the United States, an outright denial certainly would,” he added. “And TransCanada had been given every reason to believe its application would be denied by the current administration, despite the protracted review period and multiple favorable findings. Consequently, the company itself has been forced to delay the project further, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters outside of a closed policy luncheon on the Hill today that he agrees with TransCanada’s move.

“By putting the pause button now, that allows things to stay active, in my opinion, until after the 2016 election when we may have a Republican president in office who could then approve it,” Barrasso said.

“I think the fear right now is that the president was getting ready to oppose it, and put a final close-down on it — and this just keeps it alive.”