After major environmental demonstrations outside the White House, and revelations of internal conflicts of interest in the review process, it appears that the Obama administration may delay or revise its plans for the Keystone XL pipeline moving Canadian tar sands oil through pipelines to Texas.
The $7 billion project requires State Department certification. But documents show that a former Hillary Clinton campaign adviser was a top consultant/lobbyist for TransCanada during its assessment of the pipeline’s environmental impact. The project also has stirred resistance from the Republican governor of Nebraska and other local officials along its route.
Environmental groups want the pipeline rejected outright. But the project is supported by organized labor and touted in press releases as an alternative to Middle Eastern oil dependency. For the first time last week, President Obama raised questions about the pipeline’s health and safety impact, and “set no deadline for answers” (New York Times, November 7, 2011) In addition, a State Department spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that “if needed, gathering and assessing additional information” would be required. (Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2011) Such new assessments would require more delays.
Garth Lenz, a Canadian photographer and environmentalist, wrote the Bulletin:
“I wouldn't want to risk that decision being handed over potentially to a Republican President. My general sense is that the U.S. campaign to oppose the pipeline is building and that the longer the decision is delayed the less likely it is that the pipeline will end up being built. One thing that I think may be getting a bit overlooked is that even if the pipeline never had a spill it is still a disaster as the pipelines are the pre-requisite for the proposed four-fold expansion of the Tar Sands.”
For the environmental movement, there are at least two challenges. First, to organize at grass-roots levels in swing-state Montana, and conservative states like South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, where state-by-state opposition could cause the project to falter and become prohibitively expensive. And second, since State Department approval requires a finding that Keystone is in “the national interest”, environmentalists may have to develop a credible alternative energy scenario based neither on North American oil pipelines nor Middle Eastern sources.
Since first reporting, the Obama administration has announced that it intends to delay a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.