Since April 2004, when President Bush signed his order, the federal government has taken an average of 478 days to give a yes or no to other applications. The company hoping to build Keystone has been waiting for a decision for nearly seven years.
WASHINGTON — For six and a half years, the White House has had a quick comeback to questions about its yet-to-be-announced decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline: Talk to the State Department.
Under a George W. Bush-era executive order, oil pipelines crossing U.S. borders require a presidential permit, setting off a governmentwide review that the State Department coordinates. President Obama, in no rush to anger either environmentalists or energy advocates, has deflected criticism about the long-delayed decision by arguing that his administration is merely carrying out his Republican predecessor’s directive in the ordinary way.
But an Associated Press review of every cross-border pipeline application since 2004 shows that the Keystone review has been anything but ordinary.
Since April 2004, when Bush signed his order, the federal government has taken an average of 478 days to give a yes or no to all other applications — less than a year and a half. The company hoping to build Keystone has been waiting for a decision for nearly seven years — or more than five times the average.
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The administration has declined to say what’s taking so long, or to offer insight into the deliberations.
“This is under a review process at the State Department. That particular process is a process that predates this administration, so I’m not going to have any update for you from here,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters recently. With a flat “yes,” though, he did promise a decision sometime before Obama leaves office.
The final call comes down to whether the project is in the nation’s interest.
In a major climate-change speech in 2013, Obama established a litmus test, saying Keystone wouldn’t move forward if it was shown to significantly increase greenhouse- gas emissions — a matter still hotly contested.
More than 16 months have passed since the State Department’s 30-day public-comment period closed. The State Department hasn’t disclosed whether any federal agencies have objected to the pipeline, but has said it’s continuing to review the application “in a rigorous, transparent and objective manner.”
The process doesn’t typically drag on for so long. The first permit issued after Bush revised the process in 2004 took less than four months from application to signature.
Even the pipeline that took the longest to approve — the 435-mile Vantage Pipeline Project, approved during Obama’s tenure — took fewer than three years, despite requiring complex negotiations with multiple Native American tribes concerned about historical preservation.
Not including Keystone XL, eight applications for new or significantly upgraded petroleum pipelines have been processed since April 2004. The AP’s review excluded permits reissued for existing pipelines due to change of ownership.
Piecing together the record of presidential permits is complex because there is no single repository for applications and pipeline decisions. To come up with an average processing time, the AP culled data from the Federal Register, State Department records, congressional correspondence, Congressional Research Service reports and data provided by pipeline owners.