TransCanada CEO treks to State for closed-door meeting on Keystone

The CEO of TransCanada Corp., developer of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, is meeting behind closed doors Thursday with a senior State Department official as the agency weighs whether to approve the controversial project.

CEO Russ Girling is scheduled to meet in the afternoon with Kerri-Ann Jones, who is the department's assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs.

The State Department is leading the federal review of the proposed pipeline that would bring oil from Canada’s oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries.

The department is crafting a revised environmental analysis but has said a final decision about whether Keystone should receive a permit will not come until late March at the earliest.

Secretary of State John Kerry, at his recent Senate confirmation hearing, kept his cards close to the vest when asked about his views on the pipeline.

Girling told Bloomberg Wednesday that he expects the project will be approved “very soon” and that he suspects "we’re looking at anything from a few weeks to a couple of months.”

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But many environmentalists have made blocking the project a top priority because of the volume of greenhouse gas emissions created by oil sands production and use, arguing the pipeline would lock in expanded development.

Major business and oil industry groups, along with a number of unions, are pressing for approval, arguing the project would create thousands jobs and boost energy ties with Canada, which is already the top source of U.S. oil imports.

Proponents also say that development of the oil sands will proceed and that Canada will find a way to export to other markets anyway if the Keystone project is scuttled.

Several environmental groups are organizing a Feb. 17 demonstration in Washington, D.C., that will call on President Obama — who has indicated that he’ll ultimately make the final decision on Keystone — to scuttle the pipeline.

Bill McKibben, the founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org and a leader of the anti-Keystone movement, wrote an op-ed in The Hill Thursday arguing the decision will define Obama’s legacy on climate change.

McKibben, noting it's an executive decision and not in the hands of Congress, writes that “this is the one clear pure test of [Obama's] climate resolve.”

“Block it, and he’ll have us at his back; approve it, and his climate legacy is written,” he writes.

But Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), in a competing op-ed, made the case for Keystone as part of a wider energy strategy.

“Hydrocarbons are the path to an economically prosperous future, and we should be doing all we can to ensure plentiful and affordable supplies,” wrote Whitfield, chairman of the House Energy and Power subcommittee.