Keystone Pipeline Decision Delayed Until 2012

The State Department is delaying a decision about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline for at least a year. The pipeline would carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. But a political uproar in Nebraska has put the project on hold until after the presidential election.

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And now let's talk about a different kind of controversy over a proposed oil pipeline. It would stretch from Alberta, Canada to Texas. It has stirred protest, and the uproar in Nebraska has now put the Keystone XL pipeline on hold until the next presidential election. The State Department said yesterday it is delaying a decision on it for at least a year. NPR's Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: The Keystone XL pipeline seemed to be sailing through the approval process, which was through the State Department since the pipe crosses the border. But environmental groups decided to make the pipeline a test of the president's environmental commitment. They're concerned about the huge amount of carbon dioxide that will end up in the air if the vast Canadian tar sands are fully exploited.

Their protests brought national attention to the issue. And then it became a huge issue in the state of Nebraska. People there complained that the pipeline would run through the sensitive Sandhills region, and right over an important water supply. That was the preferred route identified in the government's environmental impact statement. But State Department official Karri-Ann Jones now says the public outcry in Nebraska has led them to reconsider.

KARRI-ANN JONES: So we have decided, really, to focus on looking at alternative routes that would minimize or avoid the Sandhills, and we had not done that in the environmental impact statement.

HARRIS: The State Department will not, however, address the broader concerns voiced by environmentalists, namely what building the pipeline would do to the climate. Transcanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, expressed its disappointment with the decision, but it did not say the delay would kill the project as it had earlier suggested.

The project has had the support of construction unions, which look forward to the jobs it would create. And advocates have said the pipeline could help increase U.S. energy security since the Canadian oil could substitute for oil from the volatile Middle East.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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