President Obama’s announcement that he would delay the approval deadline for the Keystone XL pipeline deadline drew cheers from the nation’s environmentalists today. For months, the green community has poured effort into protesting the pipeline, which would have carried oil from Canadian tar sands nearly 1,700 miles to Texan refineries. Not only is the process for extracting oil from tar sands highly carbon-intensive and destructive to the surrounding environment, the pipeline would have cut across the all-important Ogallala Aquifer—a spill, environmentalists argued, would have had deleterious affects on Western agriculture and drinking water. Keystone XL was a unique flashpoint. More often than not, environmental groups and opposing industries tend to clash over broad energy policy, not individual projects. Could the fight over Keystone XL represent a new norm in environment battles?

It very well might, according to Sarah Ladislaw and David Pumphrey, both senior fellows at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Ladislaw and Pumphrey have put out an analysis of the fracas surrounding TransCanada’s monster pipeline in which they predict that, absent broad energy policy—which is difficult to formulate in a political environment where the two sides have almost no common ground—clashes could migrate to discrete projects, few of which will approach the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline. And they are not happy about that. “Fighting out these big questions about where the United States is headed vis-a-vis our national energy policy and climate change on a project-by-project basis is a terrible and uncoordinated way to proceed, but given the example of Keystone XL it appears to be the path we're on,” they write. “Allowing one pipeline to be such an important symbol for a much more complex and difficult debate is really disturbing and not likely to yield positive conclusions for anyone.”