Brushing aside pressure from Canada, Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the United States will not be pushed into making a decision on the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.
At a joint appearance with Canada's foreign affairs minister, John Baird, Kerry said he has not received a crucial environmental report on the $7 billion pipeline, which would carry oil from western Canada to refineries in Texas.
"My hope is that before long, that analysis will be available, and then my work begins," Kerry said, referring to a recommendation he is expected to make on whether the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest. The State Department has jurisdiction over the pipeline because it crosses an international border.
Kerry, who has rarely spoken about the pipeline since taking office a year ago, said "a lot of questions" were raised about the project in a lengthy public comment period the State Department conducted. "Those comments have necessitated appropriate answers," he said.
"I can promise our friends in Canada that all the appropriate effort is being put into trying to get this done effectively and rapidly," Kerry added.
Kerry's comments came as Baird, his counterpart in Canada, concluded a three-day visit to Washington in which he repeatedly urged U.S. officials to decide quickly on the pipeline, which was first proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada in 2008.
"If there's one message I'm going to be promoting on this trip, it's this: the time for Keystone is now. I'll go further -- the time for a decision on Keystone is now, even if it's not the right one," Baird told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon this week. "We can't continue in this state of limbo."
The pipeline plan has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate over climate change. Environmental groups have pressured President Barack Obama to reject the pipeline, saying it would carry "dirty oil" derived from tar sands and exacerbate global warming. They also worry about a spill.
Lawmakers from oil-producing states, as well as business and labor groups, have urged Obama to approve the pipeline as a source of much-needed jobs and a step toward North American energy independence.
Speaking across the street from the White House, Baird said he expects the State Department review, known as an environmental impact statement, to be released soon after Obama's Jan. 28 State of the Union address, with a final decision after that.
The renewed lobbying on the pipeline comes as TransCanada is poised to begin shipping oil from the pipeline's southern leg next week. A 485-mile segment from Cushing, Okla., to the Houston region is slated to begin shipping oil on Wednesday.
The $2.3 billion southern leg does not require State Department approval because it does not cross a U.S. border. The northern segment would run 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb. The pipeline would connect to Cushing through an existing, 298-mile spur.
A spokesman for TransCanada said Friday the company believes U.S. officials have "more than enough information" to approve Keystone XL.
"Our customers continue to need the product we will deliver, (the pipeline) continues to receive extremely strong support from Republicans and Democrats in public opinion polls, and more than 9,000 American construction workers are standing by to build this important piece of modern energy infrastructure," said Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman.