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Keystone XL is in jeopardy: TransCanada just asked the US to suspend its application

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The company trying to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline has given up all hope that President Obama will approve the project — and wants a final decision delayed until after the 2016 election.

On Monday, TransCanada asked the US government to temporarily suspend its review of the $8 billion pipeline, which, if built, would bring 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada and North Dakota down to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists have long opposed this project, and Obama has dithered over a final decision for years (since it crosses national borders, his administration has final say).

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the pipeline firm said it has just filed an application with Nebraska's energy regulator over a new route, and that review process is expected to take seven to 12 months. In the meantime, TransCanada wants the State Department to pause its own ongoing review (something the federal government did during a previous dispute over a Nebraska route last year).

One obvious possibility here is that TransCanada officials believed Obama was getting ready to kill the pipeline — so they're making a last-ditch maneuver to postpone any any final decision until after the next election.

Obama can hand Keystone XL to the next president — or kill it for good

So two things can happen now. The State Department could say, fine, we'll hit pause on our review — and essentially kick the decision to the next president. Obama wouldn't have to deal with this headache anymore. It'd be decided by the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have said they'd veto the project, while Republicans like Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio have said they'd approve it. (Donald Trump's position on Keystone is ... well, it's Trump.)

Or Obama could come out and say, nope, I'm rejecting this pipeline right here and now. Environmental groups like 350.org are currently urging him to do just that. A formal rejection would make life much more difficult for TransCanada. The company would either have to restart the difficult and costly application entirely from scratch — or, more likely, abandon the pipeline altogether.

TransCanada is hoping for the former possibility. Either way, this is pretty clearly a desperate move to salvage an endangered pipeline.

Update: The White House said on Monday night that it still plans to make a final decision on Keystone XL before Obama leaves office. "Our expectation at this point is that the president will make a decision before the end of his administration on the Keystone pipeline, but when exactly that will be, I don't know at this point," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One.

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