Obama and Harper move little on Keystone XL at international summit

President Obama said yesterday that a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline will proceed along "the path that's already been set forth," even as he welcomed additional work with Canada on jointly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

At a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Toluca, Mexico, Obama offered few hints of his current leanings on the pipeline, after being asked about what needed to happen between Canada and the United States for approval of the TransCanada project.

After calling the Keystone XL review process "extensive" and stating, "I'm sure Stephen feels it a little too laborious," the president reiterated that he would not make a decision on the project until receiving Secretary of State John Kerry's full evaluation. He defended the project's timeline, saying it is "how we make these decisions about something that could potentially have a significant impact on America's national economy and our national interests."

Currently, the $5.4 billion project is under a comment period as part of the national interest determination process, after the release of the final environmental impact statement from the State Department this month. Keystone XL also could face further delays after a Nebraska court ruling yesterday invalidated a state law approving the Canada-to-Gulf-Coast pipeline's proposed path in the state (E&ENews PM, Feb. 19).

"I said previously that how Keystone impacted greenhouse gas emissions would affect our decision, but, frankly, it has to affect all of our decisions at this stage, because the science is irrefutable. We're already seeing severe weather patterns increase. That has consequences for our businesses, for our jobs, for our families, for safety and security," Obama said when pressed by CTV News on Keystone XL at the North American Leaders Summit.


"Stephen and I, during a break after lunch, discussed a shared interest in working together around dealing with greenhouse gas emissions," the president added.

Last year, Obama set a litmus test for Keystone XL's approval, stating it could move forward only if it did not "significantly exacerbate" carbon pollution.

At the event, Harper indicated that the final environmental review from the State Department passes that test. "In terms of climate change, I think the State Department report already was pretty definitive on that particular issue," Harper said. He emphasized that Canada and the United States have parallel targets for greenhouse gas reductions and that Canada has a streamlined environmental review process for energy projects under new national rules.

"That is a process that is tremendously useful in giving investors greater certainty in terms of the kind of plans they may have in the Canadian economy," Harper said. Environmentalists in Canada have criticized the new rules as allowing speedier approval of oil pipelines.

Harper did not elaborate on the timeline for greenhouse gas rules on Canada's oil and gas sector, after telling Global News last year that it could be years before the country adopted such rules, since his country preferred working jointly with the United States on the issue.

Neb. to appeal court ruling

Meanwhile, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) announced in a statement just before the Harper-Obama conference that the state attorney general would appeal the ruling overturning the law governing Keystone XL's current route in Nebraska.

The state ruling and the appeal could add extensive delays, as environmentalists are now pressuring the State Department to halt its review process.

The three leaders also announced several energy initiatives at the summit, including continued support for phasing down hydrofluorocarbon production under the Montreal Protocol.

Obama stressed that fossil fuels will be dominant for a long time but said he would like to consult with Harper on climate leadership to growing-emitter countries like China and India, in order to have leverage over them in urging improvements on energy.

"One of the wonderful things about North America is we have this amazing bounty of traditional fossil fuels, and we also have extraordinary businesses that are able to extract them in very efficient ways. And that's something that we should welcome, because it helps to promote economic growth. But we only have one planet, and so I believe that ultimately we can both promote economic development and growth, recognizing that we're not going to immediately transition off of fossil fuels, but that we do have to point to the future and show leadership," Obama said.