What does it mean to "consider the impact on global warming" before the federal government approves development projects?

President Barack Obama is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they should consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways.

The result could be significant delays for natural gas- export facilities, ports for coal sales to Asia, and even new forest roads, industry lobbyists warn.

"It's got us very freaked out," said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based group that represents 11,000 companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Southern Co. (SO) The standards, which constitute guidance for agencies and not new regulations, are set to be issued in the coming weeks, according to lawyers briefed by administration officials.

Stanley Kurtz says that Obama has found a way to shift blame for environmental restrictions from the government to environmental groups.

But let's concentrate on Keystone. The Bloomberg report makes it clear that Obama's order opens the way for further litigation and substantial delays on Keystone, whether the federal government officially blocks construction or not. That's because NEPA allows citizens and environmental groups to file claims against projects even after they win government approval.

So the Obama administration could green-light the pipeline, file a report that stops short of calling Keystone a major global-warming hazard, and still find the project delayed for years by environmental groups bringing court challenges under the new NEPA guidelines.

In this scenario, headlines loudly proclaiming Obama's approval of Keystone would shield him from Republican attacks. Simultaneously, the president could mollify the left by claiming credit for guidelines that effectively allowed his allies to stop the pipeline. And that would be right. Obama can publicly "approve" Keystone, while simultaneously handing the left the tool they need to put the project on semi-permanent hold. Environmentalists would take the political heat, while Obama would get off scot-free. Pretty clever.

By creating an opportunity for outside groups to challenge projects in court on global warming grounds Obama may have opened a can of worms. Will the most extreme environmental groups allow anything to be built without their blessing? What rents will they extract with their new standing to sue?

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