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Request to suspend Keystone pipeline review raises questions about politics

There’s another twist in the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline: The company behind the pipeline has asked to suspend a review of its plans, prompting questions about whether the Obama administration is planning to reject it, and whether TransCanada hopes to delay the decision. Gwen Ifill reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The long-running debate over the Keystone pipeline has taken another sharp turn, as the company behind its construction asked to suspend a review of its plans, triggering many questions about whether the Obama administration is planning to reject it anyway.

  • JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:

    Given how long it's taken, it seems unusual to me to suggest that somehow it should be paused yet again.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest expressed skepticism today over TransCanada's abrupt request to suspend the Keystone application process. The company said it wants to wait for state-level reviews and litigation to play out. But Earnest said another motive may be at work.

  • JOSH EARNEST:

    There's no doubt that this debate has been heavily influenced by politics, and the president is doing his best to try to shield the actual process that will consider the merits of the project from those politics.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Earnest said the president still plans to decide the issue before he leaves office in early 2017. If approved, the pipeline would connect oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast, passing through six U.S. states. It would carry 800,000 barrels of oil a day.

    The application process began in 2008, but a final decision has been delayed time and time again. The president has remained publicly noncommittal about the project, but in South Carolina earlier this year, he offered some pointed criticism.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    We're not going to authorize a pipeline that benefits largely a foreign company, if it can't be shown that it is safe and if it can't be shown that, overall, it wouldn't contribute to climate change.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In February, the president also vetoed a Republican bill to force construction of the pipeline. Environmental groups opposed to Keystone argued today that TransCanada is now hoping a president friendlier to the project will be elected next year.

    Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, a leading Republican and pipeline supporter, agreed.

    SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), Wyoming: By putting the pause button now, that allows things to stay active, in my opinion, until after the 2016 election, when we may have a Republican president in office who can then approve it. I think the fear right now is that the president was getting ready to oppose it and put a final close-down on it, and this just keeps it alive.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    For now, the State Department continues its review of the project, with no end date announced.

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