U.S. to Delay Decision on Pipeline Until After Election

11-10-2011 // John M. Broder and Dan Frosch

This excerpt is from the New York Times.

The $7 billion pipeline, which would run from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, has generated intense opposition from environmentalists and public officials in Nebraska, who claim that it threatens sensitive lands and underground water supplies along its 1,700-mile route. Critics also say that the heavy oil extracted from sand formations in Canada will add to climate change and extend American dependence on fossil fuels.

The administration in recent days has been exploring ways to put off the decision until after the 2012 election, fearing further alienation of environmental and health advocates who consider the pipeline decision a test of the Obama administration’s commitment to clean energy and air quality. Environmental groups have expressed sharp disappointment with a number of recent administration environmental decisions, including the rejection of a tougher new smog standard proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and a five-year offshore drilling plan that opens new areas in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico.

The administration is expected to announce that it will order a study of an alternate route for the pipeline that avoids Nebraska’s Sand Hills region and the Ogallala aquifer. That study could take as long as 18 months, putting an ultimate decision on the project well past next November.

Larry Schweiger, president the National Wildlife Federation, one of many environmental groups opposed to the pipeline project, said Thursday that White House officials had indicated to his organization that a decision to change the plans for the pipeline was imminent.

“The way I understand it, the process will be altered and altered to make sure all of our concerns are considered,” he said.

A spokesman for the environmental group added that the White House had indicated that considering a new route for the pipeline would essentially delay the project by 12 to 18 months.

The State Department’s inspector general announced earlier this week that he was looking into charges of conflict of interest and improper political influence in the preparation of the project’s environmental impact statement. Last week, the State Department’s spokeswoman said that a target date of Dec. 31 for determining whether the pipeline was in the national interest could slip.

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