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Climate activists declare victory as Keystone XL planners stall

Opponents of the pipeline see TransCanada’s request for a pause as a sign of desperation

The Keystone XL pipeline is not officially dead, but that hasn’t stopped environmental groups from dancing on its grave. TransCanada, the corporation behind the project, asked Barack Obama’s administration on Monday to delay a final decision on whether the controversial pipeline extension plan may proceed — a move that opponents of the project have described as an act of desperation.

“Clearly TransCanada has lost, and they recognize that,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, a group working against climate change, in a Tuesday statement. “It’s one of the great victories for this movement in decades. In defeat, TransCanada is asking for extra time from the referees and clearly hoping they’ll get a new head official after the election.”

The formal approval process has dragged on for years, in part thanks to the environmental movement’s staunch opposition to the project. Activists have turned the Keystone XL pipeline extension, which would be able to ship hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil daily from Alberta in Canada to the United States, into a symbol of the fossil fuel industry. They have demanded that the White House reject the project as a sign of its commitment to climate change mitigation.

Obama has yet to make a ruling on the pipeline, but his administration has indicated that he will make a formal decision before he leaves office in January 2017. Climate activists said they believe TransCanada is trying to stall until the decision rests with his successor because he is likely to reject the project.

Any of the Republican presidential candidates, if elected, would likely approve Keystone XL. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has said she opposes the project.

In a letter sent Monday to Secretary of State John Kerry, TransCanada said it was requesting a pause in the approval process because of delays in its effort to get its pipeline route approved by Nebraska authorities. Working out all the issues could take “seven to 12 months,” wrote TransCanada Executive Vice President Kristine Delkus.

“When the status of the route in Nebraska was challenged last year, the [State] Department found it appropriate to suspend its review, pending resolution of that challenge,” she wrote. “We submit that, in the current circumstances, a similar suspension of the review process would be appropriate.”

Neither the State Department nor the White House has replied to TransCanada’s request, although White House press secretary Josh Earnest told the press on Tuesday that it was under review. Climate groups are urging Obama to reject the pipeline extension instead of giving the company more time.

“Pause or no pause, we now know more than enough to do the right thing — reject the pipeline because it would worsen climate change,” said Anthony Swift, the director of the National Resources Defense Council’s Canada project, in a statement. “Altering its route through Nebraska isn’t going to change that.” 

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