The company seeking to build the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline is asking the Obama administration to pause the process for reviewing its permit.
TransCanada Corp., which until recently repeatedly pressured President Obama to take action on the permit after seven years of delay, cited Nebraska officials’ review of Keystone’s route in asking for the pause from the State Department Monday.
The request is almost certain to push the timeline for Keystone’s review past January 2017, when Obama’s term will be over and a new a president will take office.
The request follows TransCanada’s move in September to change its method for seeking approval in Nebraska for a process that does not involve using eminent domain and would avoid lengthy and expensive state court battles.
“We are asking State to pause its review of Keystone XL based on the fact that we have applied to the Nebraska Public Service Commission for approval of its preferred route in the state,” TransCanada President Russ Girling said in a statement late Monday.
“I note that when the status of the Nebraska pipeline route was challenged last year, the State Department found it appropriate to suspend its review until that dispute was resolved,” he said. “We feel under the current circumstances a similar suspension would be appropriate.”
Beyond pushing the decision into the next president’s term, TransCanada’s move takes significant pressure off Obama to rule on the pipeline.
All major Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election have promised to approve Keystone, and all Democrats say they oppose it.
Obama in recent months has embraced arguments against the pipeline, raising hopes among environmental groups that he would reject the project.
The pipeline, proposed to run from Canada’s oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast in Texas, has been a lightning rod of controversy for years.
Republicans have sought to pressure Obama into approving the pipeline to cross the northern border, citing the economic benefits and friendly relations with Canada.
Most Democrats and environmentalists say the pipeline would be destructive to the environment and the climate, and encourage use of some of the most carbon-intensive oil on the planet.
Greens said Obama should not grant TransCanada’s pause, since it would allow a future president to approve the pipeline. Instead, Obama should reject it now, they argued.
“This is nothing more than another desperate and cynical attempt by TransCanada to build their dirty pipeline someday if they get a climate denier in the White House in 2017,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.
“President Obama and Secretary Kerry have all the information they need to reject this dangerous pipeline, and we are counting on them to do just that,” she said.
“Clearly TransCanada has lost and they recognize that,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. “In defeat, TransCanada is asking for extra time from the referees, and clearly hoping they’ll get a new head official after the election.”
State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala said the agency would consider TransCanada’s request. But in the meantime, the review process would continue as normal, she said.
Earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to give a specific timeline for Obama’s consideration of the Keystone permit, telling reporters only that he would decide before his term ends.
Updated at 8:20 p.m. and 9:02 p.m.