Obama Administration Running Out the Clock on Keystone XL


On September 19, 2008 backers of the Keystone XL pipeline first submitted an application to the U.S. State Department to build this energy infrastructure project and bring jobs and greater energy security to America. On November 6, 2015 President Obama ended his 2,604 day charade and rejected the Keystone XL pipeline subsequently denying American jobs and greater energy security. 

Keystone XL emerged as a symbol of the president’s failed energy policies. Instead of saying “yes” to thousands of jobs and greater energy security, the president said no. The House voted several times to allow for construction of the pipeline, which would have created tens of thousands of American jobs and carried nearly a million additional barrels per day of secure North American oil supplies to U.S. refineries. The landmark shovel-ready project enjoyed strong bipartisan support, and House Republicans remain committed to solutions that strengthen our energy security and put Americans back to work.


On September 19, 2008, the Canadian energy and infrastructure company TransCanada filed an application with the U.S. Department of State to build the Keystone XL pipeline, an expansion of the existing Keystone pipeline. The landmark Keystone XL pipeline expansion would have carried up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day 875 miles from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. From there, the oil would go to refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. The new pipeline would also transport some of the rapidly-increasing oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana. The project was estimated to support approximately 42,000 jobs, and  deliver enough oil to substantially reduce imports from the Middle East. Because the pipeline crosses a national border, it required federal approval in the form of a Presidential Permit. President Obama denied that approval on November 6, 2015. 

The State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement, the second version under President Obama along with several other drafts and a supplemental, failed to identify any reason to further obstruct Keystone XL. In fact, it concluded that there are greater safety and environmental risks from not building the pipeline, as the oil would still be transported by alternatives like rail and truck. Further, Keystone XL was required to include a number of state-of-the-art features that aimed to make it safer than any existing pipeline.

Nonetheless, on November 6, 2015 the president formally rejected this job-creating pipeline. 

Keystone XL Fast Facts:

According to the Department of Energy, Keystone XL would be able to move up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day. This represents about almost half the amount the U.S. imports from the Middle East.

According to the State Department's Environmental Impact Statement, "During construction, proposed Project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced), and approximately $2 billion in earnings throughout the United States."

By delaying approval of the pipeline, President Obama is providing China with an opportunity to out-compete the U.S. and gain access to Canada’s rich oil supply.

Several labor unions have endorsed the project and criticized the president’s decision to reject American jobs.

Even Chris Matthews described President Obama’s rejection of Keystone XL as a “mistake.”

Keystone XL Timeline

  • September 19, 2008 – TransCanada submits an application to the U.S. Department of State to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, an extension of the existing Keystone pipeline.
  • 2009 – Department of State conducts 20 scoping meetings in communities along the pipeline route and consults with federal and state agencies and Indian tribes.
  • April 16, 2010 – Department of State issues its Draft Environmental Impact Statement. It opens a 45-day comment period, which it extends for additional days.
  • Summer 2010 – Department of State hosts 21 public comment meetings in communities along the pipeline route. When the public comment period is extended, additional meetings are held. Nearly 1,800 verbal and written comments are received.
  • October 15, 2010 – Speaking to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is asked about approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and she says, “we are inclined to do so.”
  • October 25, 2010 – The General Presidents of four international unions representing a total of 2.6 million workers send a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the Department of State to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.
  • December 7, 2010 – Department of State hosts a government-to-government meeting for Indian tribes and other consulting parties.
  • January 2011 – TransCanada agrees to adopt 57 project-specific special conditions for design, construction, and operations of the Keystone XL pipeline. The conditions are developed by the Department of State and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; according to the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, these conditions would give the Keystone XL pipeline “a degree of safety over any other typically constructed domestic oil pipeline,” making it a truly state-of-the-art pipeline.
  • April 15, 2011 – Department of State issues a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement and opens another 45-day comment period. More than 280,000 comments are received.
  • July 25, 2011 – The Obama administration issues a Statement of Administration Policy calling legislation related to the Keystone XL pipeline unnecessary, declaring, “the Department of State has been working diligently to complete the permit decision process for the Keystone XL pipeline and has publicly committed to reaching a decision before December 31, 2011."
  • July 26, 2011 – U.S. House of Representatives approves H.R. 1938, the North American-Made Energy Security Act. The bill, authored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), requires a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by November 1, 2011. The bill is approved with a strong bipartisan vote of 279-147.
  • August 26, 2011 – Department of State issues its Final Environmental Impact Statement and opens up a 90-day review period. The agency continues accepting public comments.
  • Fall 2011 – Department of State hosts public meetings in states along the pipeline route.
  • November 10, 2011 – President Obama announces that no decision on the Keystone XL pipeline will be made until after the 2012 election. A decision is expected in early 2013, after the administration identifies a new route for the pipeline.
  • November 10, 2011 – The president’s decision is widely attributed to political pressure exerted by environmentalist groups opposed to the pipeline. A statement from Terry O’Sullivan, General President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, sums up the response: “Environmentalists formed a circle around the White House and within days the Obama administration chose to inflict a potentially fatal delay to a project that is not just a pipeline, but is a lifeline for thousands of desperate working men and women. The administration chose to support environmentalists over jobs – job-killers win, American workers lose.”
  • December 23, 2011 – Both the House and Senate unanimously approve – and President Obama signs into law – a bill requiring approval of the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days unless the president determines the project does not serve the national interest.
  • January 18, 2012  After over three years of review, President Obama formally rejects the pipeline's Presidential Permit and asks TransCanada to reapply.
  • February 7, 2012  The Energy and Commerce Committee approves H.R. 3548, the North American Energy Access Act. The bill, authored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), removes the president's authority over the pipeline's permit and transfers it to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • February 16, 2012  U.S. House of Representatives approves the PIONEERS Act with language from Rep. Terry's bill requiring swift approval of the pipeline.
  • March 8, 2012  President Obama personally lobbies the Senate to kill an amendment calling for congressional approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In spite of the president's efforts, 11 Senate Democrats joined all voting Republicans in favor of the project.
  • March 22, 2012 – On a visit to Cushing, Oklahoma, President Obama takes undue credit for the southern leg of the pipeline from Cushing to the Gulf Coast, ignoring the fact that he rejected the only Keystone permit that requires his approval because it crosses our national boundary with Canada.
  • April 18, 2012 – House approves H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, including language authored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) taking the pipeline out of the president’s hands and requiring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the permit within 30 days. The bill passed with veto-proof support by a vote of 293-127.
  • April 18, 2012 – TransCanada submits a reroute of the Keystone XL plan to the state of Nebraska for review.
  • May 4, 2012 – TransCanada reapplies to U.S. State Department for a Presidential Permit.
  • May 18, 2012 – House passes a Motion to Instruct Conferees on H.R. 4348 to insist on Title II of the House bill regarding approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The motion passed with a bipartisan vote of 261-152.
  • June 15, 2012  State Department publishes Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a Supplemental EIS (SEIS) for the second Keystone XL Presidential Permit application.
  • January 22, 2013 – Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman gives approval of the proposed reroute of the pipeline through the Cornhusker State.
  • March 1, 2013 – The U.S. State Department issued its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Presidential Permit application, which includes the proposed new route through Nebraska. The SEIS findings are similar to the Department’s FEIS issued last August, which found the pipeline will have limited adverse environmental impacts.
  • March 15, 2013 – H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, is introduced in the House by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE). The bill addresses all the permits necessary beyond just presidential approval and would limit litigation that could doom the project.
  • March 22, 2013  U.S. Senate agrees to Sen. John Hoeven’s (R-ND) budget amendment urging approval of the Keystone XL pipeline by a vote of 62-37. 17 Democrats joined every Senate Republican voting in favor of the amendment, signaling future filibuster-proof support for legislation to build the pipeline using congressional authority.
  • April 17, 2013  The Energy and Commerce Committee approves H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, by a vote of 30 to 18.
  • May 22, 2013  House approves H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, with bipartisan support by a vote of 241 to 175.
  • January 31, 2014 – The U.S. State Department issued its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the permit application, confirming the project is safe and will have limited environmental impacts. The report reflects that TransCanada has agreed to incorporate 59 special safety conditions recommended by PHMSA. 
  • April 18, 2014  The U.S. State Department announced it will delay the national interest determination period indefinitelyciting a need to wait until the Nebraska Supreme Court can rule over the route. 
  • September 18, 2014 – House approves H.R. 2, the American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act, a broad energy package that includes the language of H.R. 3.
  • November 14, 2014 – House approves H.R. 5682, a bill authored by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), which would approve the application for the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • January 9, 2015 – House approves H.R. 3, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, authored by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), which would authorize construction of the project. 
  • January 29, 2015 –  Senate approves S.1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.
  • February 11, 2015 –  House approves S.1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act, sending the bill approving the pipeline to the president's desk. 
  • February 24, 2015 – President Obama vetoes S.1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act 
  • November 6, 2015  President Obama formally rejects TransCanada's application with the U.S. Department of State to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

Additional Resources

  • All  environmental impact statements and other State Department analyses are available here.
  • Visit the State Department's Keystone XL home page here.
  • Chairman Upton's statement on the president's formal rejection here