The White House maintained on Monday that the decision to delay the review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline was not based on politics. The State Department said last week it would delay its recommendation on the project, and the White House said it was not involved in that decision.
"I know there's a great urge and has always been to make this about politics," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "But we've see along this process, along the way here, along the route, you know, a series of actions taken in keeping with past practice where the reviews are done out of the State Department."
Carney said he was not aware of any conversations between the White House and State Department before the announced delay, which may allow President Obama to avoid making a decision about the controversial project until after the midterm elections.
"The issue here has to do with a court decision in Nebraska and its impact on the ability for the State [Department] process to continue for agencies to be able to comment," Carney said. "And absent a definite route through Nebraska, the decision as I understand it by State is that that can't continue until the situation in Nebraska is resolved."
A state court within Nebraska has ruled officials there did not follow proper procedure in approving the latest proposed path for the pipeline. If the state's seven-member Supreme Court upholds the decision, Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. would need to reapply to the Nebraska Public Service Commission — a process that found take up to seven additional months.
Carney maintained that Obama wanted the review process "to be conducted in a way that's consistent with past practice" and said Congress had been responsible for prior delays to the project.
"We have seen attempts to inject politics into this, actions by Congress, for example, that have actually served to delay the normal process that the State Department runs," Carney said.
The administration's delay has been slammed by Republicans and red-state Democrats, who accuse the White House of stalling.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) called the move "irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable" in a statement last week, and Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) have also blasted the move.
At the White House, Carney sidestepped questions about the Democrats' complaints.
"My response to any questions about this or statements about this is that it is a process run by the State Department, as has been the case in previous administrations of both parties," Carney said. "There was a decision by the Nebraska supreme court — not here in Washington but by the Nebraska supreme court — that affects potentially the pipeline route, and the State Department that's running the process has made a decision about the impact of that decision on the process itself."