Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman expects to seek Obama decision on Keystone before election

President Obama might be compelled to make a decision on the Keystone pipeline before the election after all.

Though the president just rejected a permit for the controversial project, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman told Fox News that he expects to send the Obama administration a new proposed route for the pipeline well before Election Day.

"I fully expect we could get it done certainly in the early September, August time frame," the governor told Fox News on Thursday. "I would send the letter back to the president of the United States saying we approve it and if he were decisive, he could turn around and approve it shortly thereafter, well before the November election."

The White House, in justifying its decision to turn down the permit, blamed Republicans for forcing a decision in a tightened time frame. Congressional Republicans had attached a provision to last year's short-term payroll tax cut extension requiring a presidential decision on Keystone in 60 days, a time frame administration officials warned would not be sufficient.

But all along, administration officials have also invoked the concerns over the pipeline of Nebraska officials, including Heineman, in justifying their handling of the issue.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, in reviewing the history of the dispute Wednesday, said "concerns were raised about the environmental impacts on the air and water quality in Nebraska."

Yet while those concerns contributed to the State Department decision late last year to delay the federal review process, top Nebraska officials were not on board with the president's decision Wednesday to reject the permit.

"Right now, I think they're looking for a convenient excuse to get it beyond the election. Let's do what's right for the country. Let's put America back to work," Heineman said.

Nebraska lawmakers had earlier raised concern about the impact the initial pipeline route, which runs from Canada to Texas, would have on an important and vast underground water source in Nebraska. In November, the governor signed a bill that would pay for a new state-run environmental study of a new route that TransCanada agreed to pursue.

But Heineman disputes any suggestion that the federal government needs lots of time to review his state's new study. He said the project already received initial approval from the State Department for the earlier route, before the department backed off upon objections from environmentalists.

As Obama rejected the permit for Keystone saying there wasn't enough time to review at the federal level, Heineman questioned why -- since the state and the company have already agreed to reroute the pipeline through a less sensitive area.

"So again, the State Department had already approved the route that was much more environmentally sensitive, and so in my view, he should have said 'yes' to allow this to move forward. There's so much at stake for this country," he said.

Heineman said his state will have completed the new study by about August, and sees no reason for further delay.

"I would send a letter to the Department of State saying in Nebraska, we approve," he said. "At that stage, all they've got to then say it's in the national interest. And again, I think you could say that today. They've been at this for three years."

Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns echoed Heineman's concerns in a statement Wednesday. He said Obama's decision was a sign he "lacks faith" in Nebraska's ability to choose a new route.

"By arguing that the Nebraska route could force them to deny the permit, he's implying Nebraska can't get it right. There is no legitimate justification for the delay. To suggest a few dozen miles of the route in Nebraska -- which will be identified by the governor, consistent with the law -- affects the overall public interest for more than 1,600 miles of pipeline is laughable and reeks of political gamesmanship," he said.

But Obama and his team said Republicans forced his hand. Obama said in a statement Wednesday that his call was "not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people."

Carney said Thursday it is a fallacy to suggest that anything other than the insistence by House Republicans to impose the 60-day deadline is responsible for the decision.

TransCanada has already announced that it will seek a new permit at the federal level.
Republicans in Congress also said they would not throw in the towel on the issue. Some called for Obama to reverse his decision.

Yet the debate is steeped in election-year politics. Obama is caught between two factions of his base on the decision over Keystone, a reality that critics claimed contributed to the decision to delay the project in the first place. Unions are clamoring for the pipeline, saying thousands of jobs are at stake, while environmentalists are vehemently opposed to it.

The environmentalists applauded Obama for his announcement Wednesday.

"President Obama has shown bold leadership in standing up to Big Oil and rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said in a statement.

Fox News' Jim Angle contributed to this report.