Environmental groups and energy and labor organizations sparred over the Obama's administration decision Friday to extend its review of the Keystone XL pipeline, an issue that has increasingly become a political hot potato.
Energy interests, who say the pipeline will create thousands of new jobs and help spur America's recent energy boom by connecting Canadian crude oil reserves with refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, criticized the delay on a final decision.
But the pipeline has drawn harsh criticism for its likely environmental impact, with many arguing that it will greatly accelerate the energy-intensive extraction of oil reserves from Alberta's tar sands and thus contribute heavily to carbon emissions.
The Obama administration's decision Friday indefinitely extends the time executive agencies can review the approximately 2.5 million submitted comments and consider a Nebraska court case surrounding Keystone XL. The final approval or rejection of the pipeline may not occur until after November's midterm elections.
The Natural Resources Defense Council approved of the extension on a deadline: "The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible," the NRDC said in a statement. "It is already clear that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline fails the climate test and will damage our climate, our lands and our waters."
But proponents of Keystone XL said the Obama administration's punt was politically motivated, as making a final decision before the midterm elections could hurt Democrats. “It’s a sad day for America’s workers when politics trumps job creating policy at the White House,” said Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. "Strong majorities in the House and the Senate have publicly called for Keystone XL’s approval."
Democrats stand to suffer no matter what Obama ends up deciding. Approving the pipeline could stifle campaign contributions by environmental groups to Democratic lawmakers, while rejecting the pipeline could hurt Democrats in states whose economies rest on oil and gas production, and threaten support from labor groups who back the construction of the pipeline.
The Laborers' International Union of North America also voiced its opposition to the latest delay. LIUNA's president Terry O'Sullivan called it "another low blow to the working men and women of our country for whom the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline to good jobs and energy security."
Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, one of the most fervent opponents of the pipeline, gave mixed reviews of the Obama administration's delay, saying that putting off the decision means slowing the emissions-intensive and dirty extraction of oil in Canada, but bemoaning the President's hesitation to take a strong stand on climate issues.
"We actually need President Obama providing climate leadership. If he’d just follow the science and reject the stupid pipeline he’d finally send a much-needed signal to the rest of the planet that he’s getting serious," McKibben said.