The Obama administration said Wednesday it will not delay its verdict on the fate of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, in a new signal that President Obama intends to decide the future of the controversial project before he leaves office.
The State Department formally rejected a request by TransCanada Corp. for a “pause” in the pipeline’s approval process, a move that would have effectively deferred a decision until after next year’s U.S. presidential elections.
State Department officials said the administration’s review of the project—now in its seventh year—would continue, barring a decision by TransCanada to withdraw its application altogether.
“This was a request to pause. There’s no obligation to pause,” spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington. “A lot of work has gone into this and [Secretary of State John F. Kerry] wants that work to continue.”
The Canadian firm issued a statement saying it respected the decision and would “continue to demonstrate that Keystone XL is in the national interest of the United States.”
“We will continue to focus on building a pipeline that will put 2,200 Canadian construction workers and 9,000 in the United States to work, not to mention tens of thousands more on the full value chain that the State Department itself identified in its review,” the statement said.
White House officials hinted strongly on Tuesday that Obama intends to decide the oil pipeline’s fate during his tenure, rather than suspend the review, as TransCanada requested in a letter to the State Department earlier in the week. The company is seeking a cross-border permit that would allow construction of a 1,179-mile pipeline to move 830,000 barrels of crude oil daily between terminals in Hardisty, Alberta, and Steele City, Neb.
The Obama administration has faced pressure from major Democratic supporters and environmental groups to block the pipeline, which activists portray as a crucial test of the administration’s commitment to fighting climate change.
Environmental groups praised Wednesday’s decision.
“After such a long review process this was a ridiculous ploy from TransCanada,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. “We’re confident that President Obama will build on his climate leadership once again by swiftly rejecting this dirty pipeline.”
Backers of the project, such as Sen. Hedi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), said at this point the president should move quickly to settle the matter.
“So now the administration wants to make a decision about the Keystone XL pipeline? It’s been stalling and delaying such action for seven years now – politicizing an energy infrastructure project and blowing it completely out of proportion,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “It’s a pipeline – that’s it. We have waited far too long for the administration to make a decision about it, so that decision better come soon so we can finally move on from this seemingly never ending process and take real steps in Congress to move forward.”