Keystone backers want to keep pipeline in the public eye

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are working to keep the project in the public eye, even as it becomes clear it will not be green-lighted until after the elections.

The Nebraska Supreme Court announced this week that it would hear oral arguments in a lawsuit about Keystone’s route through the state in early September.

Because the State Department decided in April to suspend its review while the pipeline’s route through Nebraska is litigated, this means a final decision is unlikely until after the midterms.

And that’s setting up a challenge for the project’s supporters, who want to keep the pressure on leaders to approve Keystone.

“There are a lot of other things happening right now — Export-Import Bank, immigration, tax reform, all kinds of stuff — and we don’t want Keystone to get lost in this whole thing,” said Chip Yost, the assistant vice president for energy at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

“We want people and the president to know that this is still a priority for manufacturers and businesses,” Yost said.

NAM joined 43 business groups this week in sending a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to immediately recommend that President Obama approve the pipeline, instead of waiting for the Nebraska case.

“The purpose of that letter is to keep this at the forefront, not to let it die away,” Yost said.

Keystone supporters are also commissioning surveys, backing legislation and speaking publicly about it.

If it is completed, Keystone XL would bring oil from Alberta, Canada’s oil sands through the middle of the United States to the Gulf Coast, where the oil would be refined.

Environmental groups oppose it due to the greenhouse gas emissions the oil will produce, but business groups say it will adequately protect the environment and create thousands of jobs.

The pipeline needs a presidential permit because its northern section will cross the border into Canada.

The project’s proponents maintain that Obama can approve the pipeline’s construction regardless of Nebraska.

“The Nebraska stuff is going to work itself out in the courts or with some kind of agreement, but that’s no reason to hold up the entire thing,” Yost said. “That’s a bit of a red herring.”

The American Petroleum Institute (API) also wants to ensure that public attention remains on Keystone during the summer and fall.

“Keystone’s a priority for API and the industry. We continue to advocate for it, and we continue to want people to talk about it,” said Sabrina Fang, a spokeswoman for API.

Fang agreed that since State has issued an environmental analysis, the president can issue his permit at any point, regardless of the Nebraska case.

“But for whatever reason — and many people think it’s for political reasons — the president is once again kicking the can down the road past another election cycle,” Fang said.

The administration has said the delay has nothing to do with politics and is all about the fight in the courts.

Environmentalists think that keeping Keystone in the public eye will benefit their cause.

Jason Kowalski, policy director at 350.org, said public polling shows declining support for Keystone. The more people know about the project, the less they want it built, Kowalski said.

“We very much think it’s a great idea that this stays in the news cycle,” he said. “It’s a key test for how seriously politicians take climate change. There are no scientific models that show that we can stop climate change if we also extract all that tar sands.”

For environmental groups like 350.org, it’s not just about the merits of the pipeline. They don’t want further development of Alberta’s oil sands, which they say produce petroleum products that emit more carbon dioxide than other oils.

“We think that the pipeline fails the president’s climate test,” Kowalski said. “They’ve made it such a big piece of their domestic policy agenda that I just don’t see how they could turn their back on those commitments and approve this pipeline.”