* Furloughs hit ability of EPA, Interior Dept to weigh in
* Decision on Keystone XL pipeline not expected till 2014
(Recasts first paragraph, adds link to story about decision
could linger into 2014, bullet points)
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, Oct 10 The U.S. government shutdown
is making it harder for the State Department to review the
Keystone XL pipeline permit process, a State Department official
said on Thursday, which could delay President Barack Obama's
decision on the project.
The State Department - which is in charge of the pipeline
permit process because Keystone XL would cross the national
border - had been expected to issue a final environmental review
in mid-October for TransCanada Corp's pipeline that
would help link Canada's oil sands to refineries in Texas.
Delays in that review could push back Obama's final decision
on the pipeline, which had not been expected until some time in
The State Department has multi-year funding, which allows it
to continue work on the environmental review. But the federal
government has been in a partial shutdown since Oct. 1;
officials at other agencies, including the Environmental
Protection Agency and the Department of Interior, are unable to
weigh in on the review as they did before the shutdown.
Finalizing the environmental review "involves work with
consulting agencies to discuss and address their comments as
appropriate, but most of those consulting agencies have had a
large number of staff furloughed," the State Department official
said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of
the sensitive nature of the decision.
The EPA has been particularly hard hit with a large number
of employees furloughed.
The official would not say how long any delay on the
application process would last. TransCanada initially applied
for a permit more than five years ago.
"We cannot make any predictions on the timing - we haven't
before and can't now," the official said. "We are working as
best as we can under the circumstances," to finalize the draft
Environmentalists have focused on stopping the pipeline,
saying it will lead to faster development of Canada's oil sands,
which are linked to higher emissions than average crude oil
refined in the United States.
Backers of the project counter that the oil will be sent by
rail and truck, which are more prone to accidents, if the
pipeline is not built.
After the environmental review is finalized, eight U.S.
agencies will have 90 days to comment on whether the pipeline is
in the national interest.
At that point, the State Department will make a
determination on whether the pipeline should be approved.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and