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AN EXCUSE Court case should not delay decision on Keystone pipeline

By the Chicago Tribune

The Sun's editorial writer is out of the office today. The following editorial is republished from the April 23 Chicago Tribune.

Last week the Obama administration jumped on a court ruling in Nebraska to delay a federal decision one more time on the Keystone XL pipeline. You could almost hear the president saying, thank you Cornhuskers!

Or in this case, Cornhusker, singular.

In February, a district court judge in Nebraska ruled that lawmakers there had violated the state constitution when they gave Gov. Dave Heineman the authority to approve a route for the Keystone pipeline that crossed private lands. The judge said that decision-making power rested with the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about the separation of powers in the state of Nebraska. At any rate, the lower court decision will be appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

That tire-screeching sound you hear is coming from Washington, not Lincoln.

The State Department had been expected to determine in the next few weeks if it would recommend the Keystone pipeline on a route that crosses from Canada into the U.S. heartland. But State Department officials announced an indefinite delay because of the Nebraska court case.

That's puzzling, given that Bloomberg News reported recently that the State Department had decided the Nebraska case wouldn't affect its review of Keystone. It is the job of the State Department to determine if the project serves the national interest. All signs have pointed to 'yes.' In January, the State Department released its final environmental report on the project, which concluded that the project would have minimal impact.

Now State has decided to sit on its hands. Officials said they will take the time to review the 2.5 million public comments they've received. We can envision the folks at State staging long, slow, breathy dramatic readings of those comments because ... they ... have ... all ... the ... time ... in ... the ... world.

All this likely pushes an Obama administration decision on Keystone past the November midterm elections.

That delay might be good for Democrats, because this is a politically fraught decision. Approval of Keystone would anger some in the environmental lobby.

But the delay is bad for Americans who would like to have a job.

This project - already five years in discussions - would link oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to American ports and refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. It would make the North American energy industry more efficient. It would improve safety by delivering oil via pipeline rather than the current, riskier practice of shipping it by train. It would put people to work.

The Supreme Court of Nebraska eventually will rule. It could uphold the lower court decision, which would force new deliberations in the state about the pipeline route. It could overturn the lower court decision, find the legislature acted properly and uphold the governor's power to set the course of Keystone.

The State Department doesn't have to wait for Nebraska to settle its state legal wrangling. The State Department should make its decision on national interest now, so when the dust settles in Nebraska, this energy-driving, job-producing project, can, finally, become a reality.

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