There were some interesting revelations in statements made to day by Jay Carney, President Obama’s Press Secretary relating the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Recall that in the bill to extend the middle class income tax break, Republicans put in a requirement that he give his ruling on it by next month. Follow me over the orange squiggledegibbet for what went down at this afternoon’s presser.
QUESTION: Jay, this morning the U.S. Chamber had a big event where leaders spoke about their policy positions, calling on the administration to pass Keystone as quickly as possible to create as many jobs as possible. Where is the President on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it is a State Department-led process, as you know, Cheryl. The fact of the matter is, as you know, the provision that extended the payroll tax cut put this artificial 60-day deadline, if you will, on the decision-making process, and State Department — the State Department has been very clear that that does not allow for the kinds of reviews that are necessary.
To underscore that point, I think it’s important to note that not only has no route been identified by the company, but the state of Nebraska, which will now do their own assessment of whatever the proposed alternate route is, has made clear in recent reports that their own environmental assessment would take six to nine months.
And the point I’m trying to make here is that there is a reason why this process has within it the duration required to properly review all the different aspects of a project like this and to weigh all the important criteria. And to try to circumvent that process is, as we said at the time, counterproductive, we believe, to even the goals stated by those who insisted on trying to do that.
Having said that, I have no new information and I’d refer you to the State Department about that process.
Later in the press conference, the topic came up again.
QUESTION: And on Cheryl’s question about Keystone, are you saying the President might be moving toward a statement where he blocks Keystone under the law, which he has to do by February 21st?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the process for Keystone, as I’ve said on so many occasions from here, is conducted at the State Department on behalf of the federal government. And the State Department has been clear about the time necessary to assess any alternate route. That route hasn’t even been identified yet, as I said.
But the company and the state of Nebraska has said it needs six to nine months for the environmental assessment to be done after that route is identified. So I cite those facts because it goes straight to the point about the very political and arbitrary action taken by some folks in Congress, by Republicans in Congress, to try to play political games with the payroll tax cut. We said it was a bad idea at the time. It’s a bad idea for a bunch of reasons, including the ones I just laid out. But I don’t have any announcement to make about action that the State Department might take or the President might take.
QUESTION: But he’ll take action by the deadline in the bill that he signed?
MR. CARNEY: He signed a bill into law, so I would refer you to the State Department about how that will be taken under consideration.
QUESTION: To keep you rolling on Keystone, some Republicans in Congress are working on a plan for legislation they say would force the issuing of a permit for Keystone, effectively bypassing the President or overruling the President if he fails to take action by February 21st. Does the administration see this is as a legitimate course of action?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s several layers of speculation about legislation that may or may not be written, that may or may not be submitted, that may or may not be voted on. I’m going to deal with the facts as we know them, which is that this is a process that long predates this administration that has a review like this conducted out of the State Department.
The timeframe for something like this is well established based on the kinds of procedures that need to be considered, the criteria that need to be weighed in a decision-making process like this. The decision to seek an alternate route necessitated a delay of the decision-making process so that route could be identified and then assessed. And the State Department is overseeing that process now.
This exchange suggests to me that the administration believes they do not have enough time to make this decision. The Republicans are trying to force a quick decision but President Obama is insistent that this decision must be made after careful review and that, so far, they don’t even know the route. Based on this and the fact that the State Department hasn’t had enough time to complete their review, they cannot make the correct decision.
Maybe this is the out they need to “just say no” as someone once said. If they can’t make a decision properly, the safe thing to do will be to deny the pipeline.
And, if that happens, we can, for once, thank the Republicans.