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No KXL Decision for Now
A Nebraska court ruling and outpouring of public comments forces the State Department to extend its consideration of the tar sands pipeline.

The State Department announced today that it will provide more time for comments on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which would carry corrosive crude 1,700 miles from northern Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The section of the pipeline from the U.S.-Canadian border to Cushing, Oklahoma, has been under consideration by the Obama administration for six years now, with various delays pushing back a decision and giving environmental advocates more time to make the case that the pipeline would be a disaster for climate and the environment.

Like some of the previous extensions, this latest is due to pushback in the state of Nebraska, where farmland and water would be at risk from leaks and spills. A Nebraska district court ruled in February that the governor’s decision to allow the pipeline to pass through the state had been made in an unconstitutional manner. (See OnEarth’s coverage here.) The ruling has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which could take many months to consider the case.

“The Nebraska Supreme Court decision could lead to changes in the pipeline route,” an unnamed State Department official told national reporters, “and it’s important to have that information and better understand that route, because it could have implications for environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural impacts of the pipeline.”

Agencies also need additional time to review more than 2.5 million public comments that have been submitted on the pipeline during the latest review period.

Although the State Department is the lead agency on the pipeline decision (because the route crosses an international border), other federal agencies need to weigh in, as well. The deadline for that was the end of this month, with a finding on whether KXL is in the national interest expected in June. This latest extension will likely push a determination until after the November midterm elections, which has many pundits accusing the Obama administration of playing politics with the pipeline decision.

But as some environmental advocates pointed out, the State Department would be hard-pressed to make a decision on a pipeline route that remains in flux. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the international program at NRDC (which publishes OnEarth), called the administration’s latest move “prudent,” adding in a statement:

Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL. The newly extended comment period will show what we already know: the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest.

Still, advocates would certainly prefer an out-right thumbs down, and they'll be pushing President Obama to do just that in a series of rallies and public events in Washington next week. In other words, they'll ask the president: why wait when just saying “no” makes so much more sense?

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