When new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Friday with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird in Washington, the talk turned to the fate of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Kerry said the controversial $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline project would undergo a "fair and transparent review," adding he expects to make a decision "near-term" on whether to move forward with it. The State Department has final say over the pipeline because it traverses international borders.
According to a department spokeswoman, a decision is likely at the end of March. But Reuters reported an unidentified U.S. official said the decision could be pushed back until June.
Canada is committed to the pipeline, and Baird lobbied hard for it during the meeting with Kerry. After the meeting, Baird called the Keystone XL pipeline a "huge priority."
Who Supports the Keystone XL Pipeline Project in U.S.?
Congressional Republicans also support the pipeline, saying it would benefit the United States by creating jobs, raising local revenue, ensuring a more consistent energy supply and improving America's energy independence.
The Keystone pipeline project is projected to bring $20 billion in private-sector investments to the American economy, create 20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 spinoff jobs, and pay out some $5 billion in taxes to local counties over the project's duration.
"Our economy can no longer be put on hold while the bureaucratic process you set in motion jeopardizes this critical project," Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of Friday's meeting.
The U.S. is the world's largest energy user and over the past decade has consumed approximately 18 million barrels per day of petroleum products.
Canada is the largest source of U.S. oil imports and is embraced as a stable and secure energy partner.
America's north-of-the-border neighbor has and will continue to help the U.S. reduce its dependence on energy supplies from unfriendly nations like Venezuela and some Middle Eastern countries. The Keystone pipeline aims to get Canadian oil to the U.S. faster, cheaper and more efficiently.
Supporters point out that the Keystone XL pipeline project has undergone thorough and comprehensive review.
Parent company TransCanda has agreed to comply with 57 additional special conditions developed for the project by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Why do Environmentalists Oppose Pipeline?
Environmental advocates have been highly critical of the project, saying it threatens natural resources.
The original Keystone XL pipeline, which has been operating since 2010, is a 2,151-mile pipeline transporting Canadian crude oil to Cushing, OK, the Midwest oil hub.
The extension, which has been under construction and in discussions since 2011, would pass through North Dakota and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Texas.
The pipeline's expansion was halted in January 2012 after President Obama rejected the expansion application, calling for further review amid protests from scores of environmentalists concerned about its impact on the environment.
Some 60 environmental groups wrote in a Feb. 6 letter to Kerry, "This pipeline is not in our national interest – the evidence shows it would unlock vast amounts of additional carbon that we cannot afford to burn, extend our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, endanger health and safety, and put critical water resources at risk."
The Environmental Protection Agency found the pipeline poses "no significant impacts" to the majority of resources if environmental protection measures are followed.
Some say the Keystone pipeline decision will be a test of President Obama's position on climate change.
In his first post-election press conference, the president endorsed scientific consensus on global warming, acknowledging the importance of the issue. He admitted he's not done enough and vowed to explore how to reduce carbons.
And Kerry has expressed regret that he wasn't able to get climate-change legislation passed during 30 years in the Senate.
Kerry reiterated his pledge to confront climate change as an extension of U.S. foreign policy when he was confirmed secretary of state last month and he will play a pivotal role in the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline.
>>For more on this hotly debated project, read Why Environmentalists Want the Keystone XL Pipeline Dead.
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