Putting off important decisions is rarely considered a good thing, except in politics, where procrastinating on important decisions can mean the difference between being in and out of office. Yesterday, the Obama administraton put the delay tactic to use, announcing that it will postpone its decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election.
"Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood," Obama said. "The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science."
The announcement comes in response to widespread opposition to the proposed pipeline from the environmental community, who have rightly raised concerns about potential effects on underground and surface water supplies, air pollution around refineries and harm to wildlife.
Of particular concern is the pipeline's proposed route across the Sandhills in Nebraska, and the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water to about two million people in Nebraska and seven other states.
"This resource is the lifeblood of Nebraska's agricultural economy," Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said in a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging them to deny the federal permit for the pipeline. "Cash receipts from farm markets contribute over $17 billion to Nebraska's economy annually. I am concerned that the proposed pipeline will have potentially detrimental effects on this valuable natural resource and Nebraska's economy."
Eco-activist Bill McKibben, one of the leaders of the campaign against the Keystone pipeline, is confident that the announcement spells the end of a project that had seemed near approval:
It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end. As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.
We won't know for sure for over a year. According to Obama's statement, the review "could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2013," well after the election.
Photo: Evan Vucci / Associated Press