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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

By David Lauter and Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has delayed a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, perhaps until after November’s midterm election.

A further delay in the evaluation of the pipeline, which already has lasted more than five years, is necessary because of a Nebraska state court decision in February that invalidated part of the project’s route, the State Department said in a statement.

Shortly after the court ruling, administration officials had said the Nebraska case would not have an impact on their deliberations. But in the new statement, the State Department said federal agencies could not evaluate the pipeline’s impact until the “uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation” is resolved.

That could take awhile. Nebraska officials have appealed the case to the state Supreme Court but have said they do not expect a ruling until late this year at the earliest.

In the meantime, the latest delay could get President Barack Obama off a politically difficult hook in an election year. The White House has been pressed on one side by environmentalists who have turned opposition to the pipeline into a major cause and on the other by conservative Democrats from energy-producing states who support it.

Administration officials have differed on both the substance and the politics of a decision on Keystone, which would carry oil from the tar sands deposits underneath Canada’s western prairies to refineries in Texas and Oklahoma.

Opponents say the project would worsen global warming by opening up the tar sands to development. Supporters say it would reduce U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East, Africa and other unstable parts of the world and that Canada will develop the tar sands whether the U.S. approves a pipeline or not.