The pipeline, intended to move 830,000 gallons of Canadian oil per day from tar reserves in northern sand to Texas refineries, adding contributions from North Dakota and other producing states, passed the last local hurdles when Governor Dave Heineman (R-NE) signed off on the proposal last month. He was the last state official along the pipeline's middle route to approve after receiving concessions for the Ogallala Aquifer (largest underground fresh water resource in the country which supplies several urban areas in the midwest), and various ecological concerns, such as a borrowing beetle's habitat. A large portion of the southern route, leading to the refineries, is already approved and being prepared for construction, as is the pipeline through Canada to our northern border. All that's left is connecting the two ends, through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
While energy issues are usually handled through the Department of the Interior (Remember the Gulf Oil disaster? The Department of the Interior tried to stop off-shore drilling after that, which the courts shot down.) the XL pipeline is waiting for approval from the State Department; presumably because it crosses international boundaries. The newly-appointed Secretary of State, John Kerry, will presumably make his recommendations to the president.
Lee Terry made statements to the Omaha World-Herald Friday, indicating the decision should be easily made and announced, but the Administration seems to be hesitating. On Friday, they indicated no decision will be made until June. As questions concerning energy, and specifically the XL pipeline, were raised during the last presidential campaign, the president's position was kept very vague in comparison to Romney's unequivocal support for the pipeline and all energy.
"I’m all for pipelines. I’m all for oil production. What I’m not for is us ignoring the other half of the equation.” This was President Obama in the same debate that produced the "Binders of Women" comment from Romney, that received the most media attention. Less than declaratory.
In decisions the president has made since the election, they seem to be running hard to the left, for gun control, immigration reform, and higher taxes on the wealthy; while the price of gasoline rose .20/gallon the past two weeks; unemployment rose .1% as he disbanded the "Jobs Council"; and new international violence in the Middle East and North Africa was put on hold to give a fond farewell to Hillary Clinton on "60 Minutes". His agenda is focused on liberal causes, playing to his base.
That means giving an ear to environmental groups protesting the pipeline, despite the concerns that have already been addressed, and funneling money to "green energy" as an alternative to fossil fuels. An anti-pipeline group, Bold Nebraska, is planning a protest in Washington DC on February 17, and will bus 100 people to the rally.
Supporters, like Terry, are working on legislation to approve the pipeline, along with Democratic support from the region, which would require presidential approval or a veto earlier than June. Terry is working with other legislators on a bill; then will need Senate approval. Even though 51 Senators signed a letter recommending approval to the President, that leaves the opportunity for a filibuster, and doesn't account for the moods or allegiance of Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, to keep such a bill from reaching the floor at all.
The issue isn't getting the pipeline built, but whether or not the president will decide and live with the consequences, particularly in the next election cycle where he hopes to push the Republican Congress aside, build his Senate majority, and finish with a truly progressive legacy. The problem is, gun control, energy, immigration, and raising taxes are double-edged issues that might increase the Republican presence in the next election cycle, particularly if Democrats from conservative states stick to the President's positions. Delay seems to be the ally of his overall agenda.