VANCOUVER, B.C. — Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday he remains confident the Keystone XL pipeline will eventually be built even as President Barack Obama delays making a decision on the $5.4 billion project.
"He's punted," Harper said of Obama in an interview at an event Monday hosted by the Vancouver Board of Trade. "He said, 'Maybe.'"
Harper said he still hopes the Obama administration "will in due course see its way to take the appropriate decision." While he said he couldn't put a timeline on a decision, Harper said he is "confident" that "the project will one way or another proceed."
Obama rejected TransCanada Corp.'s initial application to build Keystone XL after officials in Nebraska said the pipeline would imperil ecologically sensitive lands. TransCanada then split the project in two and reapplied for the rerouted northern leg in May 2012.
A draft State Department report last year said Keystone XL wouldn't cause increased greenhouse gas emissions because projects in Canada's oil sands, the world's third-largest crude reserves, would be developed anyway and transported to market by rail. Obama said in a June speech the project wouldn't be in the national interest if it worsens climate change.
Oil-sands developers are planning to double output by 2025 and are counting on Keystone XL to lift heavy crude prices by connecting them to the Gulf Coast, the world's largest refining center. Environmentalists are trying to block the project because they say it would encourage oil-sands development, releasing more carbon dioxide that scientists say is warming the planet than extracting some conventional crudes.
Harper said Monday the project will create tens of thousands of jobs, enhance U.S. energy security and have a "negligible" impact on the environment.
Asked about Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, Harper said his government won't permit projects "unless they're not only in our economic interests, but also they meet the highest standards of environmental protection."
A regulatory panel that did an environmental assessment of the project approved the pipeline last month. Harper's Cabinet has 180 days to give its own ruling. The pipeline would carry crude from Alberta to the nation's Pacific Coast.
Harper also said he's become more optimistic about the state of the global economy, and his government remains on track to balance its budget in the fiscal year beginning April 2015 with only modest economic growth and without raising taxes.
The Prime Minister's interview was briefly disrupted by two protestors carrying signs about climate change. The two, who appeared on stage alongside Harper, were removed by security.