Counting Down Washington's Keystone XL Clock

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"The law Congress passed just before Christmas to force a quicker decision on the Keystone XL pipeline gives the Obama administration two choices: approve or deny TransCanada's application by Feb. 21. Or does it?"

The law Congress passed just before Christmas to force a quicker decision on the Keystone XL pipeline gives the Obama administration two choices: approve or deny TransCanada's application by February 21. Or does it?

This project has been looked at from every angle, and yet we still don't know if those are the only two possible outcomes.

Take the latest comments from the State Department: "That law gives the Secretary of State 60 days from December 23 to either grant a permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline or to justify why a permit is not being granted," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during the department's daily briefing today.

Why switch to passive voice there at the end? Is a "permit. . .not being granted" the same thing as rejecting the application? Or is the administration preparing to again defer a decision, pending further study? Nuland wouldn't elaborate when a reporter asked: "When we get to the 60 days, can the State Department come back and say, 'Well, the reason we haven't granted the permit is because our environmental review is still underway'?"

The reporter wanted to know if the department's lawyers had determined that reasoning to be legitimate justification under their interpretation of the law. Granted, bringing lawyers into the mix made it an easy-to-deflect question. But the reporter's point was a good one: Is the White House looking at another scenario for delaying the application rather than denying the project outright? Does the application remain viable even if there isn't an approval by the deadline?

"How do you think our lawyers would feel if I gave you their interpretation before they've made their interpretation?" Nuland responded.

The reporter again: "I think you guys have come to the decision that you can actually string this outóor maybe not string it out is the right wordóbut you can justify not granting the permit by saying that, 'We're still studying it'."

Nuland closed the briefing there: "When we have something to announce, you'll be among the first, if not the first, to know."

We'll see. . .in fewer than 50 days.

Meghan Gordon, Platts

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