Be Careful What You Wish For

TransCanada once wanted the State Department to fast-track its approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Now the company is begging for more time.

November 03, 2015

Mandy Campbell/FlickrPhoto: Mandy Campbell/Flickr

TransCanada has asked the U.S. State Department to postpone its consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from northern Canada through the Midwest to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The company said yesterday that delays in Nebraska’s approval process necessitated the request, but no one really believes that explanation. More likely, TransCanada is worried that the Obama administration will reject its application and would rather wait and hope that the next president will be more tar sandsfriendly.

The pipeline’s builders are right to be concerned. The few times President Obama has mentioned KXL this year, his comments have been unambiguously negative. He’s called tar sands oil “extraordinarily dirty” and has said the project has nothing to do with U.S. jobs, directly undermining the Canadian company’s pitch to the American people.

Many have predicted that TransCanada would ask for this delay. After years of attempting to bypass the full approval process in Nebraska—where KXL still didn’t have a finalized route—the company suddenly announced in September that it would submit its application to the state’s Public Service Commission. The move would create delays, because the Public Service Commission would then hold lengthy public hearings. At the time, many (including onEarth) speculated that it was part of a ploy to hold up the federal approval process. Monday’s announcement confirmed those suspicions.

TransCanada argues that the State Department should wait for Nebraska because President Obama has historically been reluctant to make a decision before Nebraska finished its approval process. That argument makes no sense. The State Department delayed its consideration in the past because the pipeline had no settled route through Nebraska. The administration, therefore, didn’t know exactly what it was considering. This is no longer the case, since TransCanada has submitted all of its proposed routes through Nebraska to the Public Service Commission. The State Department now has a very good sense of what TransCanada wants to do.

Besides, if the president is really planning to reject the pipeline, he should just get on with it. The administration has plenty of reasons to reject the pipeline that have nothing to do with Nebraska. For one, Keystone XL fails the climate test, something the president has often said would weigh heavily in his final decision. 

Have no sympathy for TransCanada. The company has bumbled, botched, and bungled its way through the KXL approval process, telling a series of half-truths along the way as it tried to rush the pipeline through before the public understood its consequences. For starters, back in 2011 the company told the state of Nebraska that changing the route to protect sensitive environmental areas would be impossible. When the public rebelled and the project seemed to be at risk, the company suddenly decided that rerouting the pipeline would actually be easy. TransCanada CEO Russ Girling also complained as recently as this past spring that the approval process was taking too long. Now he wants more time.

President Obama should reject TransCanada’s bid for more time and then strike down the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all. It’s exactly what TransCanada, the American people, and the environment, deserve. 


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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