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TransCanada delay request adds uncertainty to Keystone outcome

What motivated TransCanada to ask that the review of its Keystone XL pipeline be suspended? And how are environmental groups, who oppose the pipeline, reacting to the request? Gwen Ifill learns more about the domestic and international politics in play from Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    How much of this latest twist in the pipeline is driven by politics, and how much by policy?

    For that, we turn to Juliet Eilperin, who covers the White House for The Washington Post.

    And you also cover these environmental matters, Juliet.

    So, we know — we heard what Josh Earnest said. The president is going to decide before he leaves office, but there’s a long period of time between we get — between now and then. Where do we know, where do we think, what does your reporting tell us, that the administration is in this process?

  • JULIET EILPERIN, The Washington Post:

    My sense is that the administration has been debating whether to give a final decision in advance of the U.N. climate negotiations that are at the end of this month. There’s kind of an argument one way or another.

    You could say that this would help give added momentum for the global fight against climate change, or they could wait until after this period. The move by TransCanada is a little unexpected. It kind of throws more uncertainty into the process.

    But — so that’s one of the things they’re weighting. But in terms of — my sense is from my reporting that the review is finished, the determination is made, and it’s a question of, when are they going to announce what they’re going to do?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And the assumption among many parties is that the decision that’s been made is against the pipeline.

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    Yes, that’s my sense of where they are, and it certainly is interesting to hear again folks, including Senator Barrasso and others, saying that they assume that’s where it is and that’s one of the reasons they really would like this decision delayed, so that the next president who could be a Republican could decide it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, what’s behind TransCanada’s decision to request the pulling of the plug? How would a delay for them affect the outcome here?

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    Really, the only question is that it would give an opportunity to potentially make the case before a different administration.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    That’s it?

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    Aside from that, there’s no real benefit.

    And when you talk to them, they say that they’re not interested in withdrawing the application, which would be ultimately of course…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But they could do that if they wanted to.

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    They could do that, but I talked to them just today, and their spokesman said they have no interest in doing that. So, given that, it seems very unlikely that they would do that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And yet a lot of environmental organizations you would assume would be dancing a victory dance today aren’t exactly.

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    Right. No. In fact, they’re nervous about the idea that this could be put over to the next administration, where they don’t have a commitment, particularly, again, if it ends up being a Republican.

    So, given, when we look at the lay of the land, if it’s a Democrat, all the Democrats running right now are opposed to it. But that’s not the case in the GOP. And so they really want the president to reject that so that’s done before he leaves office.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Are they pressuring the White House at this stage, or not letting up on the previous pressure of the White House to go ahead and make this decision?

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    They are pressing very fiercely. All the groups opposed to it issued statements last night when TransCanada asked for a delay. There was no variation. They’re all saying, this pipeline needs to be rejected by President Obama before he leaves office.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, part of TransCanada’s reasoning is that there are still unresolved issues, especially the path of the pipeline through Nebraska. What is that challenge and where does it stand?

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    Right. It’s kind of complicated.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes.

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    But the easy way to put it is that they had a route through Nebraska, which essentially was thrown out over procedural grounds stemming from a lawsuit.

    They have detailed three possible routes, all of which have been on the table before, with a couple slight of alterations. And so a state commission has to approve that, and that process could take between seven and 12 months.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There’s a southern route that’s already approved.

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    Exactly. We’re talking about this upper route, which is 1,179 miles that goes to Steele City, Nebraska, from Hardisty, Alberta.

    The connection from Steele City, Nebraska — from Steele City down to the Gulf Coast was approved by the Obama administration. The president went out and talked about this being a way to increase accessibility to oil. And so that’s been up and running, and it’s profitable.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, in Canada, we now have the potential of a different leadership. Stephen Harper, the former prime minister, was very much in favor of this. And now we have Justin Trudeau. Is there a different political climate?

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    There’s a slightly different political climate, although incoming Prime Minister Trudeau has said that he’s in favor of this pipeline.

    That said, when he talked to the president right after his reelection, he emphasized that he thought the relationship between the U.S. and Canada is broader than one pipeline and also talked about the importance of balancing economic interests against environmental priorities. And so clearly…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    He’s leaving himself a little room.

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    A little bit of wiggle room on that front.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Where does the State Department — what role does the State Department play in this decision process between now and the end of the president’s term?

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    They need to issue a national interest determination to essentially say whether or not this cross-border permit is justified on the basis of the U.S. national interest, which is a very broad issue.

    At that point, the president could intervene if he wanted to or not. So, at this point, it is seen that whatever the State Department does, it would be in concert with the White House. And you wouldn’t have — it would seem quite unlikely that they’d issue something and then the president would do something.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So that’s the next shoe we’re waiting to see drop.

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    Waiting to hear that drop.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, thank you.

  • JULIET EILPERIN:

    Thank you, Gwen.

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