Keystone XL Audit Boosts Chances Obama Will Delay Pipeline Decision Until After Election

Keystone XL pipeline White House protest

The chances that President Obama will  delay a decision on permitting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline grow by the day — so climate hawks need to keep the pressure on.

Last week, Obama asserted that he would make the decision, not the State Department, and he explicitly cited risks to drinking water and public health.  Sunday’s anti-pipeline rally was the largest White House protest since the invasion of Iraq and a clear signal that the environmental community would hold Obama accountable for his decision.

Now TP Green reports:

In response to a congressional request, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General has launched a review of the Keystone XL pipeline approval process. The State Department is tasked with conducting the environmental review of TransCanada’s proposed tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas for a Presidential Permit decision. Beginning with the Bush administration, the process has been largely outsourced to a contractor chosen and paid for by TransCanada, with only a single staffer overseeing the work. Meanwhile, lobbyists with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have aggressively pushed for approval on behalf of the foreign oil company. The request for an investigation was made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and eleven Democratic members of the House of Representatives.

Here is the audit letter:


TP Green notes:

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who was the only member of Congress to attend yesterday’s anti-Keystone rally outside the White House, responds: “The recent allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest are disconcerting, and I appreciate that the Office of Inspector General is investigating the State Department’s review process. As stated in a previous letter to the President, I ask that he withhold any final decision on the pipeline until the investigation is complete.”

The President should simply reject the permit, but failing that, at the very least he should start the entire environmental review process over again, as Climate Progress has previously urged.

31 Responses to Keystone XL Audit Boosts Chances Obama Will Delay Pipeline Decision Until After Election

  1. David Fox says:

    What an odd ‘victory’ it is to have the decision delayed until after the election. Its like saying, “better vote for Obama, as its possible he may stop the pipeline”. Personally, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell he will stop it. Obama has proven time and again that he’s corporate america’s man.

  2. Raul M. says:

    A delay taken is more of their carbon that isn’t in the air.

  3. Climate Hawk says:

    If Obama does delay the decision — yet another cowardly and calculating move on his part — I hope the movement maintains its momentum and directs it towards dismantling all of the dangerous fossil fuel industrial infrastructure. Fracking would be an excellent target, among others.

  4. Climate Hawk says:

    I totally agree, David. Obama’s scrotum is for decorative purposes only — nothing in it.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    There is a feature of TransCanada and Keystone XL that deserves a separate and independent investigation. TransCanada has already told US property owners that it will use eminent domain to take land for the pipeline.

    How can this be? How can a private foreign company assume it is eligible for a proceeding that is supposed to
    a) be applied only by our government to our land,
    b) only for the common good
    c) only after due process to determine if eminent domain is appropriate?

    Risking damage to the Ogalalla Aquifer is not in the public good.

    Two bold Nebraska landowners brought copies of TransCanada letters to them, letters that threatened eminent domain taking.
    I saw the copies at the Tar Sands Action event on Sunday November 6 at the event surrounding the White House.

    I want to know more, a lot more, about why TransCanada thought it could US eminent domain proceedings in Nebraska.

  6. Tom Lenz says:

    My final hope for Obama is that his massive politician’s ego will compel him to a morally defensible ‘legacy’. All presidents are obsessed with their place in history and Obama is no different. He knows the science is sound and he knows his legacy can only grow worse with time if he makes the wrong call on this. Or he’s a damned fool, forever.

  7. Sasparilla says:

    Nice to see Mr. Sanders was part of the group calling for an investigation, he’s always been there for action on climate change.

    It’s gratifying to see that some sunshine can throw a wrench into this political rubber stamping process for the XL.

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    Choices To Face

    As I’ve written before, if President Obama delays the decision until after the election, that raises very real and concrete choices about the sorts of questions that should be posed to him during upcoming months, the sorts of tactics that people who are SERIOUS about the pipeline would do well to adopt, and the conditions that people should place on Obama, in my view, in determining whether to vote for him again, or not.

    Put another way, a choice on Obama’s part to “delay the decision” until after the election doesn’t settle the matter, of course. Nor does it merely (or even) mean that the only or best tactic will be to continue to say “please” to the President but choose to vote for him either way, because “the Repubs would be worse”. Instead, it raises very real questions like this:

    Should we INSIST that candidate Obama promise us that he WILL say ‘NO’ to Keystone XL, as a condition for voting for him? Should we demand — as a condition for our support — that he make it clear (in no uncertain terms) that if elected, he’ll say ‘NO’ to Keystone XL?

    These are real, concrete, and vital questions. A “delay the decision” stance on President Obama’s part doesn’t make these questions irrelevant. Indeed, it makes them deeply relevant and necessary.

    I do hope that ClimateProgress will air these — as real issues and questions — and allow them to be aired and debated. The wisest answers might *seem* obvious to some, but the case in favor of not making these demands of the President, and voting for him either way, even in the context of vagueness and in the absence of any assurances on his part, is deeply problematic. I’d enjoy hearing people try to defend it, because I don’t think that it can be defended in any way that actually respects democracy and, at the same time, remains serious about the importance of a ‘NO’ decision on Keystone XL.

    Put simply, a “delay the decision” choice on the Administration’s part should cause us to PROMPTLY raise and discuss these sorts of questions in order to make sure that our tactics are as sensible, well-reasoned, and effective as possible. The “more of the same” approach would entirely miss the changed dynamics of the situation if President Obama shifts his decision until after the election. That much should be crystal clear to anyone who has even the slightest understanding of leverage, politics, politicians, and how democracy is supposed to work.

    As Bob Dylan sings, “things should start to get interesting right about now.”

    Be Well,


  9. Exactly Raul! Anything that slows how fast the tar sands carbon bomb explodes also slows the financing decisions.

    The benefit of delaying Keystone XL is that it will be a fundamental change in the rules of the game. Instead of rubber-stamp and go along a predictable schedule…it will be uncertainty of what, when and how. And that will slow investment speed and size.

    TransCanada has reportedly already bought half the physical pipe already! Ouch. Investors expect that pipe to be returning dollars by a certain date. They have spreadsheets on all this with levels of confidence built in.

    Tar sands have plans to expand carbon extraction at 10% per year. To pull that off requires billions of dollars front-loaded and stranding that for a few years will close the money spigot significantly for the next “adventure” in carbon bombing.

    The economically recoverable carbon in the tar sands is 10 times that in all of Canada’s coal reserves. Hansen puts the ultimate carbon extraction of tar sands equal to all coal ever burned by humanity so far.

    The explosion in scale of the tar sands beast has to be slowed if we want a livable climate.

  10. Morris Meyer says:

    As part of generating that “NO” I think the TransWest Express HVDC power line from Wyoming to Las Vegas would be a great shovel ready project to work on instead of Keystone XL.

    Here’s a great article comparing the two projects –

  11. AZ climate hawk says:

    Climate Hawk: We’ve got to focus on coal. Fracking is really bad and should be opposed, but after KXL I think the major focus of the McKibben/DeChristopher group should be coal. A NVDA effort highlighting the externalities of coal is the way to go. Sierra Club (Beyond Coal Campaign + Bloomberg’s $$) and Greenpeace (Quit Coal campaign) are already wisely focused there.

  12. fj says:

    obama should tell them what to do with the pipeline and the fossil fuel industry that they have a battle on their hands

  13. Mike Roddy says:

    Why are people assuming that Obama will wait until after the election to kill the pipeline? It appears to be a lot more likely that he is stalling the decision so that he can approve it in 2013 if he wins.

    Problem is, he won’t win this way. We’re not as dumb as he thinks.

  14. Bob Geiger says:

    I think this story, and Climate Progres, so far as I can tell, is missing an important development. The Reuters story said the day of the protest included the following paragraph.
    “As the president has made clear, he
    recognizes that there are a number of critical issues involved in this decision, including climate change and impacts on public health and natural resources,” said White House spokesman Clark Stevens.
    Actually, the State Department review completely ignored climate, as did Obama in his remarks in Nebraska last week. This statement by a presidential spokesman that Obama will consider climate in the decision represents a victory for the protesters. We need to hold Obama to this statement, and press him to say the same himself. If Obama says he will take climate into consideration, then before he can approve the pipeline, he needs to explain how the pipeline will be fine for the climate. That will be difficult, to say the least.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Obama will follow orders-bank on it. The last US President who thought that he could annoy the country’s ruling elites was JFK, and he was taught a bitter lesson.

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Obama probably realises that there will not be much more history to revile him, so following orders then retiring to a lucrative sinecure at Goldman Sachs probably seems the epitome of ‘rational self-interest’.

  17. Artful Dodger says:

    Joan, it’s called NAFTA. Canadian Companies must be given the same rights as U.S. Companies. This is why TransCanada no longer needs ConocoPhillips as a partner in the project. The 14th Amendment is roiling in its grave.

  18. Roger Shamel says:

    With the KXL decision likely postponed, all concerned groups would be wise to focus on getting Obama to emerge as the leader we elected him to be: Leaders alert their charge to danger, then lead them to safety.

    Climate change is a factual, clear and present danger. It’s the age of science, notwithstanding claims to the contrary.
    Obama can do this: He can, and must, find a way to inform misinformed Americans about climate change opportunities–without frightening them about CC risks.

    Given our current form of government, our best hope for a rapid response to this urgent problem is for Americans to be aware of what is at stake, and then for them to support the actions that are needed to get us on the right track.

    As Dr. Hansen said before the recent White House Action, we need to add a fee to carbon in order for it’s price to reflect its true cost, including the cost to the climate.

    If Obama gave the speech of his life (and ours) to explain the pros and cons, I believe Americans would choose a livable climate (with the above fee) over hell and high water.

    Warm regards,

  19. As I just commented on the “Power-for-the people…” entry, it is not just oil companies promoting the pipeline to the administration. It is also unions, or at least the building trades unions. I was asked by a union rep here to sign a petition in favor of the pipeline, which I did NOT do and tried to engage him on the issue instead. I had no success in changing his mind, but at least everyone needs to realize that Obama needs to choose between two groups that have supported him on this issue. Here, FYI, is a web site put up jointly by unions and the oil industry promoting the pipeline:

  20. Joe Romm says:

    Unions are split. All other progressive groups are not.

  21. Tom Lenz says:

    Agreed. This could be an interesting post idea. What happens to the corporatist mind when it encounters Lovelock?

  22. Joan Savage says:

    Artful Dodger,
    On Sunday, I asked Nebraskans fighting eminent domain proceedings if TransCanada had mentioned NAFTA. They looked puzzled. Apparently they not been told that NAFTA was behind it. They showed me copies of TransCanada letters threatening eminent domain proceedings, letters which did not mention NAFTA.

    But yes I know about NAFTA. It is also behind Canadian company Denison’s uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, even while US companies were under temporary ban by the US Department of Interior.

    Today’s CP news summary (Nov. 8) includes a Reuters report on the eminent domain issue in the Nebraska legislature, again with no mention of NAFTA.

  23. Joan Savage says:

    Gah. Nov 9 news summary has the Reuters link.

  24. Artful Dodger says:

    Hi Joan. Eminent domain is always an action of the state, not a private enterprise. This is why a Federal or State permit is required. NAFTA simply requires that the state treat U.S. and Canadian corporations equally in consideration of the request.

    Personally, I think opposing Keystone XL on the basis of ground water risks when the real problem is C02 is like arresting Al Capone for tax fraud when the real problem was murder.

    I believe we should make the leap and oppose this project on its most threatening effect, it’s impact on Global climate. To do otherwise risks losing the moral high ground when TransCanada or some other entity decides that this resource is best sold for combustion in China.

    Regarding ground water, the Athabasca basin is already affected. Cancer rates in the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations are already a public health crises resulting from tar sands production.

    In this case, local concerns are steam rolled by business interests. In my opinion, a NIMBY argument against K-XL in Nebraska will also fail, unless the protest is elevated to the level of its true effect: Everybody’s Back Yard.

  25. Steve Bloom says:

    Joe, I think it’s clear in light of the new drilling approval discussed several posts up that it would be a huge mistake to let Obama off the hook on the pipeline until after the election, at which time our leverage on this issue will have evaporated. Yet you seem to be urging that we act like suckers by rewarding Obama politically for such a delay. Please explain yourself a bit more, in a new post if possible.

    In a related vein, I noticed several months ago that at least one leading progressive electoral organization (Daily Kos) had decided to delete climate as an endorsement criterion for the current cycle. Maybe I’m being paranoid here, but this doesn’t seem likely to be an action taken in isolation. And now you’re saying we should lobby Obama to do anything other than disapprove the pipeline before the election? “Et tu,” as I seem to recall Shakepeare writing.

  26. Joe Romm says:

    You see things in posts that aren’t there.

  27. Steve Bloom says:


  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    They calculate the odds on whether they will still be ‘alive’ when the ordure hits the ventilator, and if they figure that they will be dead, they go straight back to their kleptomaniacal games.

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Absolutely! The economic collapse, the steadily increasing oil price (despite near recession in the West) the mounting weather disasters, the geo-political ferment (McCain threatening Putin, by name, and various unnamed Chinese with the Gaddafi treatment)all point to collapse being very near. And the Masters are showing all the signs of panic and disarray, which they are over-compensating for, as ever, with increased belligerence and violence. I think as Bette Davis (nearly) said ‘Fasten your seat-belts-it’s going to be a bumpy ride’.

  30. Joan Savage says:

    Artful Dodger
    Two comments one about TransCanada and the the other your main point.
    The TransCanada letters that threaten eminent domain lack state or federal permits to back them up, but that didn’t stop them. TransCanada acted as if NAFTA exempted them from having to obey national, state, local law. Insight on that?

    As for your main point, “Everyone’s Back Yard.” Well said. That’s why I and thousands of others went to the protest at the White House.

  31. Joan Savage says:

    Serious revision or termination of NAFTA and other trade agreements would be one way to dismantle the well-lubricated globalization that currently allows fossil fuels to be extracted, moved and used, so freely.

    I don’t mind at all if it is like putting Al Capone away for tax evasion.