WASHINGTON - The Obama administration says a court decision has forced it to examine whether the Keystone XL pipeline process might have to be delayed once again.
A senior official said Friday that numerous lawyers were examining the ruling handed down earlier this week in Nebraska for its possible impact.
"I know that lots of lawyers are looking at what the implications of it may be on our process. Nebraska has its own process that it has to go through," said Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
"So I don't have an answer for you as to how this will affect the timing — or whether it will affect the timing … that's the open question."
The multi-year pipeline process has been plunged into deeper uncertainty by a court ruling that says the Nebraska state government has acted unconstitutionally.
The verdict says the state had no right to pass a law that gave the governor the power to impose a route against the will of landowners — instead of an independent regulatory body. The state has appealed the decision.
That means questions to U.S. President Barack Obama about whether he will approve the pipeline are largely futile at this point.
His administration says it doesn't even know whether it's in a legal position to make a decision at all.
Unless the ruling is overturned in a higher court, or every landowner on the current route signs on, or an arm's-length Nebraska agency accepts the route, not even an Obama approval would get the project completed.
On Wednesday, Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy declared unconstitutional a law that had given Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman the power to push the project through private land.
Stacy insisted her ruling had nothing to do with the merits of the pipeline and was based solely on Nebraska's constitution.
State officials who defended the law will appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Nebraska lawmakers may have to pass a new pipeline-siting law to allow the third-party Public Service Commission to act.
If they do, it's not yet clear how long the five-member commission might take on the issue or whether it would approve the pipeline.
The southern leg of the pipeline is already operational.
Speaking at a media briefing following Wednesday's North American leaders' summit in Mexico, Jacobson was asked whether all the Keystone XL lobbying by the Canadian government and industry could make a difference at this point.
The federal government has funded an ad campaign that has, for starters, plastered the Washington, D.C., metro system with posters touting the Canada-U.S. energy partnership.
"I would never criticize a Canadian government's sovereign decision for how it uses its time or its resources," she replied.
Following Wednesday's summit, Obama told a news conference that he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper had discussed climate-change plans.
"Stephen and I, during a break after lunch, discussed a shared interest in working together around dealing with greenhouse gas emissions," Obama said. "And this is something that we have to deal with."
There was no reference to such a discussion in the official readout provided after the meeting by the Canadian government, and nobody on the U.S. side elaborated on what those efforts might look like.
Jacobson smiled when asked about the remark, but refused to elaborate on it, saying she wasn't there to hear the one-on-one discussion.
"We couldn't reveal (the details) to you if we wanted to," she said. "Leaders always retain the right to talk to each other without us present."