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Keystone XL pipeline delayed again: ND congressional leaders frustrated, disappointed

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DICKINSON — The U.S. State Department has extended its comment period for the Keystone XL, effectively delaying a decision on the controversial pipeline again.

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“I wish I could say that I’m shocked, except that I’m not because this president (Barack Obama) clearly … hates oil,” Rep. Kevin Cramer told The Press. “He has no interest in creating jobs. He has no understanding in America’s role in the world in terms of energy security and the opportunity we have as a nation.”

The State Department said in a statement Friday afternoon that federal agencies need more time to submit their views. The extended time period is based on uncertainty created by litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court, which could ultimately affect the pipeline’s route through the state.

“The permit process will conclude once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated,” read the statement.

The State Department received approximately 2.5 million comments during a round of public comment that closed March 7. It has not given a defined deadline, adding more delay to the project, which has waited five years for a U.S. permit.

A win for environmentalists

The Keystone XL would carry more than 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude per day from Hardisty, Alberta, to the Gulf of Mexico, more than 1,200 miles across North America.

Obama has said he would make a final decision on the pipeline at the end of May, but this new delay is expected to push that decision back until after the Nov. 4 mid-term elections.

Opponents of the $5.4 billion project claim the pipeline would add to carbon emissions and worsen climate change. The League of Conservation Voters said the pipeline is not in the nation’s best interest and needs to be denied.

“This is great news!” Tieran Sittenfeld, the organization’s vice president of government affairs, told Reuters Media. “Today’s announcement by the State Department that it is extending the comment period makes us even more confident that the harmful Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will ultimately be rejected.”

But North Dakota’s three congressional leaders — Cramer, Republican Sen. John Hoeven and Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp — condemned the extension, saying Obama has no substantial evidence to delay the project.

‘Defeat with delays’

Heitkamp said in a release that “it’s absolutely ridiculous” that the process is continuing without an answer.

“This most recent delay leaves everyone waiting in limbo,” she said. “It hurts all of us when no decision is made.”

TransCanada Corp., the company behind the pipeline, expressed frustration with the further delays, adding interest groups and paid activists are blocking energy security.

The project is expected to create more than 40,000 jobs and has cleared four environmental studies by the the State Department, Hoeven said. He has been a proponent of project since he was North Dakota’s governor.

The pipeline would skirt the state and could be used to ship oil pumped out of the Bakken in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

“(President Barack Obama) wants to defeat it with delays,” Hoeven said. “He refuses to make a decision on it but he wants to block the process. He just continues to come up with delays, and now he has another indefinite delay. … He just continues to find delays as a way to defeat the project.”

Eleven Democratic senators called on Obama earlier this month to make a decision on the Keystone XL. Hoeven said he has bipartisan support for legislation to approve the pipeline, and a House bill is ready for the Senate floor to vote on, Cramer said.

“It’s hard to put in words how miserable this president’s performance has been on this pipeline project,” Cramer said. “We have to demand that the Senate take up the House bill that we passed — the Northern Route Approval Act. Democrat senators must insist that (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid bring that up for a vote and force the president to approve this pipeline because clearly he answers to Hollywood and not the American people.”

‘We will win this fight’

There is more at stake than jobs, Cramer added. Passing the pipeline could trigger pulling soldiers out of the Middle East, a primary source for U.S. oil. He believes it may even help with the upheaval between Russia and Ukraine.

“The opportunity that we have as a country to demonstrate energy leadership in the world, and we have a juvenile delinquent in the White House,” Cramer said. “It is very, very frustrating.”

Cramer and Hoeven said it is time to lead and seek energy independence. They will put more pressure on both Congress and Obama to approve the Keystone XL.

“Clearly he doesn’t want to approve this pipeline, but he doesn’t have the courage to say no. Either that or he doesn’t have courage to stand up to his Hollywood political advisors,” Cramer said. “It’s pathetic. I know I sound bad, but you can no longer be polite to Barack Obama when it comes to his performance.”

Hoeven added polls show more than 70 percent of Americans want the project approved. He said he believes there is enough evidence and public support for the project to be approved.

“It hurts the county. It’s about doing what’s right for the country,” Hoeven said. “That’s why ultimately I think we will win this fight.”

Reuters Media contributed to this report.

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April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.   
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