U.S. President Barack Obama Keystone XL Pipeline

Washington DC analyst Chris Sands doesn't expect U.S. President Obama to ever make a decision on Keystone XL. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

More than a year ago, I interviewed Christopher Sands of the Hudson Institute about the Keystone XL pipeline. At the time, he said that he didn't think Keystone XL would be approved by the U.S. president until there was a new president in office. Meaning in 2017.

'I think that the President has put himself in a position, where he can't win no matter what he does, so doing nothing is the safest course of action.' - Christopher Sands, Hudson Institute

It seemed awfully pessimistic at the time. After all, the U.S. State Department had just come out with its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on KXL, which concluded that the pipeline would not materially add to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

TransCanada applied for approval of Keystone XL, which would carry oilsands crude from Alberta to the Texas coast in 2008. It seemed as though we were inching closer to a decision either yes or no.

But, as we know now, the Keystone decision kept dragging on and it looks more and more like Sands, who follows US-Canada relations at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, might be right.

"I think that the president has put himself in a position, where he can't win no matter what he does, so doing nothing is the safest course of action," he said Thursday.

Republicans in win-win situation

Sands says that Republicans feel they have a win-win: If the President does change his mind, Republicans will take credit. If he decides against Keystone XL, they'll have defined him as an obstruction and themselves as a force of positive change, which going into the 2016 election cycle is right where they want to be.

This depends on the premise that most Americans are in favour of the pipeline. Polling done in the United States shows positive responses in the 60 per cent range, although Americans are also in favour of letting the review process unfold and not forcing a decision.

State Department report

What's next in that process is a State Department report that rounds up the reviews of several U.S. government departments. That is expected in March, but Sands says it might be delayed.

"The EPA came out with their judgment that we should be taking into account the some of the potential environmental impact of oilsands development and there should be a recalculation based on lower oil prices.

"It appears that the State Department is inclined to go back and do the math and incorporate it into their report and that could means we won't get a report closer to May and maybe even a little later," Sands says.

Sands says President Obama could then take time to consider and just keep stalling, since he isn't under a clock.

Sands believes the next president will approve the pipeline, even if it is a Democrat.

Hillary Clinton in favour of Keystone XL

"Hillary Clinton, who has been in favour of this pipeline, even though she's always raised appropriate concerns, will just want the thing to go away, as soon as she comes in. And I think the same will be true of just about any Republican," he says.