The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is controversial for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the dubiously cozy relationship between the U.S. State Department staff that greenlit the project and the TransCanada lobbying team. That relationship came under scrutiny after the State Dept issued a glowing environmental review that claimed the pipeline would be safe. However, after repeated calls by Congressmen to reexamine the review process -- and public demonstrations protesting the whole project -- the Inspector General at the State Department has opened a special investigation into the proceedings.
Harold W. Geisel, the senior official in the inspector general’s office, told top agency officials in a memorandum dated Friday that he would open the review “to determine to what extent the department and all other parties involved complied with federal laws and regulations” relating to the pipeline permit process.The internal investigation could delay the Obama administration’s decision on whether to approve the $7 billion project, which would carry oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to refineries in Oklahoma and along the Gulf Coast. The State Department had set a deadline of year’s end to determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest, but officials suggested last week that the schedule could slip. Objections by states along the pipeline right of way — particularly Nebraska, which is asking for a review of the proposed route — could also delay the decision for months.All of which has helped raise the profile of the project to the point where any decision reached will be very public -- and very divisive. As Joe Romm points out in Climate Progress, this development substantially adds to the odds that the timeline for the pipeline decision will be extended to beyond the 2012 elections.