U.S. decision on Keystone XL pipeline seen dragging past summer
Getting the timing right could be a challenge as Republicans in the Senate stall the confirmation of Gina McCarthy, Obama's pick to lead the EPA.
BIG REVISIONS NEEDED?
Backers of the pipeline say the project would boost North American energy security and provide thousands of construction jobs. Opponents argue that it would lead to higher releases of greenhouse gases.
Even before that the national interest decision process kicks off, revisions to the environmental assessment may be needed after the EPA last month took issue with several parts of the State Department's review.
The EPA had concerns about the level of emissions from Canada's oil sands, where crude production is carbon-intensive. It also took issue with the State Department's conclusion that the pipeline would have no effect on climate because the oil sands would make it to market whether or not the pipeline was approved. The State Department said much of the oil could be moved by rail, an assumption the EPA questioned.
If the EPA and State Department do not come to an agreement, the decision could be sent to the White House, which could take even more time. A more likely scenario is that the two agencies will work out a solution, but they will most likely take their time to examine every detail to shield the decision from lawsuits.
"If they short-circuit the process it will open up whatever decision they make to legal challenge," said Daniel Weiss, a fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Bills are pending in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that would give Congress, not the administration, the power to approve the pipeline. Passage in the House seems likely, but prospects in the Democrat-led Senate are uncertain, and the bill would probably meet a presidential veto.
(Editing by Carol Bishopric)
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