When Congress finally approved the payroll tax cut extension in December, it had a policy rider attached requiring President Obama to make a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days. But the requirement is now causing confusion that could slow the review process because the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said it will take at least six months to choose and approve a new route — much more than Obama’s 60-day window. State officials will work with TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline, to find an alternate route for the pipeline to avoid a major water source in the state, the Ogalala aquifer.
But Inside Climate News reports that before a new route can be set, DEQ and TransCanada need a memorandum from the State Department that outlines the agency’s involvement in the process, which could slow the process while they wait on it:
TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said the company conducted some aerial flyovers in early December, along with on-the-ground surveys on public roads. “[But] we’re not really in the full-blown field stage yet,” he said. “We have to have that memorandum of understanding … there’s just been too many surprises. We don’t want to look at potential routes if we don’t understand the process.”
DEQ spokesman Brian McManus said the State Department is working with the DEQ to draft the memorandum, but he does not know when it will be finalized. [...]
McManus said his agency will proceed with the reroute regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C.
“We’re just carrying out the role that was described to us by the Nebraska legislature,” he said. “We’ll deal with the federal [implications] in late February, depending on what decisions are made.”
Before Republicans attached the Keystone rider to the payroll tax cut, Obama had pushed back making a decision on the pipeline so that the State Department could consider alternate routes and other impacts. The pipeline would carry 830,000 gallons of heavy crude oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast, and despite lofty claims about the jobs the pipeline will create, the Keystone XL project is unlikely to be a job creator.