With the State Department putting the final touches on its review of the Keystone XL pipeline and the White House preparing for a major United Nations summit on climate change next month, President Obama appeared poised to finally reject the controversial project, maybe as soon as this week. But on Monday, TransCanada, the company behind the effort to begin transporting hundreds of thousands of barrels of heavy crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to the Gulf Coast, made a last ditch effort to save the project — or at least take its chances with Obama’s successor.
After seven years of pushing the State Department to complete its review and make a decision on the cross-border permit, TransCanada sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the federal government suspend its permit application. The project has faced opposition in Nebraska, one of six states the 1,700-mile pipeline would cross through, and now TransCanada wants to hear what the state review has to say before getting the final verdict from the State Department.
“In order to allow time for certainty regarding the Nebraska route, TransCanada requests that the State Department pause in its review of the presidential permit application,” the company said in the letter. Nebraska’s approval process is expected to take seven to 12 months to complete. So in other words, by the time the permit application goes before the federal government again, the United States may have a new president — and any of the Republican candidates would allow the project to move forward.
On Monday, TransCanada spokesperson Mark Cooper acknowledged that they’ve been hearing rumors that a decision is near since February, but he insisted, “Our focus isn’t on the political machinations of what this president may or may not do or who may be in office a year from now.” However, Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, which opposes the pipeline, argued it’s the only explanation for TransCanada’s action. “The route in Nebraska has been uncertain for years, the only difference now is TransCanada knows they are about to have their permit rejected so they are scrambling,” she said. “President Obama can end all of this uncertainty with a stroke of a pen.”
While TransCanada has given President Obama an easy out, he may not take it. Activists have turned the issue into a litmus test on climate-change policies; if Obama rejects the pipeline now he would send a message about his commitment to environmental issues, and remove the issue from the conversation in the 2016 race.
A State Department spokesperson would only say that they’re reviewing the proposal — and “consideration under the Executive Order continues.” But before the request was announced, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters, “The president will make a decision before the end of his administration on the Keystone pipeline,” adding, “when exactly that will be, I don’t know at this point.”