Obama defends Keystone vetting process

President Obama defended his administration’s “extensive” review of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday, while acknowledging Canadian leaders had expressed concern that the yearslong process had become “a little too laborious.”

Speaking at a joint economic summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, Obama said the U.S. was taking time to review the project because it “could potentially have significant impact on America's national economy and our national interests.”

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During a break at the daylong conference in Toluca, Mexico, Obama said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper lobbied him to approve the project, which would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. But Obama said the approval process would “proceed along the path that’s already been set forth.”

“The State Department has gone through its review,” the president said. “There's now a comment period in which other agencies weigh in. That will be evaluated by Secretary of State Kerry, and we'll make a decision at that point.”

Environmental groups have rallied against the pipeline, arguing a spill could have a disastrous environmental impact, and its construction would encourage tar sands extraction. But advocates of the project say the pipeline is more eco-friendly than shipping oil by rail, and construction would create jobs.

A report issued recently by the State Department said the pipeline would not likely contribute to greenhouse emissions, a point Harper noted in his comments to reporters.

“In terms of climate change, I think the State Department report already was pretty definitive on that particular issue,” Harper said.

“My views in favor of the project are very well known,” Harper added. “[President Obama’s] views on the process are also equally well known, and we had that discussion and we'll continue on that discussion.”

Earlier Wednesday, a Nebraska county judge struck down a law that would allow the pipeline to run through the state. The ruling could further delay the project, if approved.