Will Nebraska's Approval Of Keystone Pipeline Route Even Matter?


While the dispute in Nebraska over the proposed route the Keystone XL pipeline would take through that state was still percolating the Obama administration was telling the media that dispute was the primary hangup in approving the overall project. “Largely because of complaints from Nebraska, the State Department agreed Thursday to look for new routes that would steer clear of the state’s Sandhills region and the aquifer, which flows beneath eight states and provides irrigation to huge farming areas,” reported the Huffington Post last year. “That effort will delay a final decision until early 2013.”

But now that the State of Nebraska has approved a route, suddenly the State Department is just taking that decision under advisement.

The Obama administration has delayed a decision on TransCanada Corp’s rerouted Keystone XL oil pipeline until after March, even though Nebraska’s governor on Tuesday approved a plan for part of the line running through his state.

“We don’t anticipate being able to conclude our own review before the end of the first quarter of this year,” said Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman at the State Department, which had previously said it would make a decision by that deadline.

She said the department would take into consideration approval of the line by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman.

So when Nebraska’s foibles with the pipeline route were a convenient excuse for delay, they were a big deal. Now that Nebraska has cleared their objections, suddenly the Obama administration is behaving as though not much hinged on that question.

This, I believe, is called “moving the goal posts.”

I see one of two things happening. Either President Obama was only sandbagging the Keystone pipeline as a pre-election sop to his environmentalist base and will now approve the pipeline in March to end it as a distraction to his second term agenda, or he’ll continue to delay the pipeline because he’s in his second term and faces few political consequences from doing so. Further muddying the waters is that the Senate will soon be engaged in confirmation hearings for a new Secretary of State. How will the Keystone pipeline issue play into Senator Kerry’s appointment process to replace Secretary Hillary Clinton?

A lot of my political friends are certain the president will cave now that he doesn’t really have anything to gain politically from obstruction. I’m not nearly so confident.