Only a few days after the Obama administration seemed to dodge a controversial decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project, TransCanada has agreed to work on a new pipeline route. The company’s concession might initially seem like it would alleviate the pressure on the president to reject the proposal; in fact, it will test whether the White House had been using re-routing as an excuse to hold off on a decision until after the 2012 election, and it will reignite a debate the president had hoped to avoid.
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced it would delay its decision on whether to approve the $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline until 2013, arguing that they needed more time to explore alternate pipeline routes that would have a less environmentally detrimental impact. The White House no doubt had political reasoning in addition to the given environmental explanation: By pushing back a decision until after the 2012 election had passed, Obama could avoid any electoral repercussions from the energy industry or from anti-pipeline activists. Additionally, some had suggested that more delays on an approval process that has already taken more than three years might persuade TransCanada to give up on the project. Now, the new terms of the proposal have brought the issue back to the table, and further postponing a decision is bound to increase criticisms that the president’s main motivation is political strategy rather than a genuine concern about the pipeline’s route.