President Obama has reportedly been gearing up to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project, so pipeline company TransCanada is trying a last-ditch effort to get the decision punted to Obama’s successor.
The latest twists and turns in the long-running Keystone saga kicked off on Monday afternoon, when White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to a question from a reporter by saying that President Obama will make a decision on the pipeline before he leaves office. It’s been rumored for months that his decision will be “no.” As The Washington Post reports, “The administration is preparing to reject a cross-border permit for the project aimed at transporting hundreds of thousands of barrels of heavy crude oil from Canada’s oil sands region to Gulf Coast refineries, according to several individuals who have been briefed but spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House’s decision has not been announced.”
A few hours after Earnest’s comments, TransCanada sent a formal letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking the State Department to “pause” its review of the Keystone proposal. The State Department has been tasked with determining whether the project would be in the “national interest” and then reporting its determination to the White House. TransCanada is arguing that because the pipeline’s planned route through Nebraska is in contention, the federal review should be put on hold until the route is finalized.
That’s pretty cheeky: After years of complaining that the administration has been delaying its Keystone decision, TransCanada is now asking the administration to further delay it.
Climate campaigners and anti-Keystone activists see TransCanada’s move as a desperate ploy that has exactly nothing to do with the pipeline route. “The route in Nebraska has been uncertain for years,” activist Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska told the Omaha World-Herald. “The only difference is they know they are losing now.”
Activists are loudly calling on Obama to reject TransCanada’s request for a delay and then reject the pipeline altogether. Said 350.org founder (and Grist board member) Bill McKibben, “No matter what route TransCanada comes back with, the ultimate problem all along with Keystone XL has been that it’s a climate disaster.”
If TransCanada’s request for a delay is granted, the final Keystone decision would likely fall to the next president. TransCanada is obviously hoping that president will be a Republican, as all of the Republican candidates support Keystone, while the top three Democratic candidates oppose it. Hillary Clinton had refused to take a position on the pipeline for years, but in September she finally came out against it. “This is nothing more than another desperate and cynical attempt by TransCanada to build their dirty pipeline someday if they get a climate denier in the White House in 2017,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters.
If Obama sticks to his plan and denies TransCanada the permit it needs, the move could help build his legacy as a leader in the climate fight. Says McKibben, “If President Obama rejects this pipeline once and for all, he’ll go to Paris with boosted credibility — the world leader who was willing to shut down a big project on climate grounds.” A major round of U.N. climate negotiations will start in Paris on Nov. 30, and Obama has been working to get other big countries to make significant pledges of climate action ahead of that meeting.
A pipeline rejection from Obama might mean that TransCanada is screwed even if a Republican moves into the White House in 2017. “The company would either have to restart the difficult and costly application entirely from scratch — or, more likely, abandon the pipeline altogether,” writes Brad Plumer of Vox.
So where does all this leave us now? Exactly where we were two days ago: waiting to see what Obama will do.