Will the Keystone Decision Again be Delayed?

gas pipe line

Via The Hill, the latest thinking is that President Obama may decide to again delay the pipeline past the November midterm elections:

If Obama gives construction of the oil-sands pipeline a green light this spring or summer, he could frame it as an example of his support for North American energy production, a boost for the economy, and a helpful concession to vulnerable Senate Democrats who support the $5.4 billion project.

But he could go the other way. A flat-out rejection of the pipeline might enthuse the Democratic base for the midterm elections in November, which will hinge on turnout.

The third option: Punt a decision again. A delay until after the midterms might be safest for the president because it would excite only mild criticism compared to the storm of opprobrium that would follow a firm decision either way.

Delay could also make Keystone a bargaining chip for the president in either the lame-duck session of Congress or next year, when he could face a Republican House and Senate.

It’s a vexed question, with which Obama’s canniest strategists are still wrestling. Which is perhaps why the White House evinces little enthusiasm in talking about the subject.

In a statement to The Hill, White House Assistant Press Secretary Matt Lehrich said:

“As Secretary [of State John] Kerry and others across the administration have made clear, a decision on whether the project is in the national interest will be made only after careful consideration of the environmental impact statement and other pertinent information, comments from the public, and views of other agency heads.”

Given that it’s been over 5 and a half years since the original application for the Keystone Pipeline, you’d think it would be about time to rip the band-aid off.

Unfortunately, this analysis seems likely. As The Hill notes, this decision is going to seriously aggravate Obama’s relationship with environmentalists. On the other hand, not approving the pipeline will likely hurt the Democratic party in tight races:

Afforded anonymity, senior administration officials say the issue is particularly tricky because it has taken on a life of its own; its symbolic significance and the light Obama’s decision will cast on his administration has grown far beyond a simple cost-benefit analysis of the pipeline’s economic and environmental impact.

They add resignedly that a final decision will inevitably stoke angry rhetoric. “There’s no question that there’s politics around it,” one senior administration official said. “It’s complicated and polarizing.

“All the more reason why, when a decision [is] made, it be extra clear that the decision itself was made on the merits.”

It’s hard to imagine the Obama Administration making this decision rather than relying on yet another vague excuse for why they need more time to study the decision.

Of course it is possible they decide to go ahead and make a decision before the midterms. But seeing as they’re only about 6 months away now, don’t hold your breath.



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