Obama admin nixes Keystone pipeline

The Keystone XL oil pipeline has become a major source of partisan wrangling. The project would stretch from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas, posing major environmental risks that made the pipeline deeply controversial.

As of today, the Obama administration has scuttled the pipeline.

The Obama administration was poised on Wednesday to reject the Keystone crude oil pipeline, according to sources, a decision that would be welcomed by environmental groups but inflame the domestic energy industry.

The administration could make its announcement on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline late on Wednesday or on Thursday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. TransCanada Corp. shares slid more than 3 percent after the news.

Republicans, not surprisingly, are outraged, and plan to invest a fair amount of time and energy into complaining about the administration’s decision.

But let’s not forget the timeline of events here — and the direct role Republicans played in making today’s announcement happen.

In November, with administration officials exploring the advantages and disadvantages of the Keystone XL pipeline, they announced that a final decision would require more time and analysis. In particular, agencies wanted to study potential alternate routes that would steer clear of sensitive habitats and water supplies.

Not good enough, Republicans said. As part of the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, GOP officials demanded an expedited decision on the project. “Forget the studies,” Republicans argued. “We want a decision now.”

“Fine,” the Obama administration is effectively responding today. “The answer is no.”

I’d argue that this is the outcome Republicans wanted all along. The GOP didn’t really want the pipeline; they wanted the ability to whine about the absence of the pipeline. This wasn’t, in other words, about energy production; this was about creating an issue for the 2012 campaign.

Indeed, Republicans were told this would happen. A month ago, the State Department said an arbitrary deadline, imposed by GOP lawmakers, would cut short the review process, deny officials access to relevant environmental information, and very likely leave officials “unable to make a determination to issue a permit for this project.”

The GOP didn’t care. It’s a reminder that congressional Republicans don’t want to govern so much as they want to play games.

By the way, we’re likely to hear from the right that this project would have created 20,000 jobs. Nonpartisan estimates suggest that figure is wildly inflated, and one independent report concluded that “the project could actually destroy more jobs than it creates.” Something to keep in mind.

As for the left, environmental activists deserve to take a bow. Their work on this helped raise the visibility of the issue, and the pressure no doubt affected White House attitudes. Bill McKibben, 350.org founder and Keystone XL protest leader, issued a statement this afternoon, lauding President Obama. “[T]his isn’t just the right call, it’s the brave call,” McKibben said. “The knock on Barack Obama from many quarters has been that he’s too conciliatory. But here, in the face of a naked political threat from Big Oil to exact ‘huge political consequences,’ he’s stood up strong.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.