WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama told governors at a White House meeting Monday that he expects to decide on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada in the next couple of months, two Republican governors said.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who chairs the National Governors Association and supports Keystone, said she asked Obama about the pipeline at a meeting with about 40 governors.
Obama told her he expects a decision "in the next couple of months," but didn't offer a specific timetable, Fallin and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said.
Obama's comments were the most specific he has been in recent months about the 1,100-mile pipeline, which has become a high-profile symbol of the political debate over climate change.
Pipeline supporters, including lawmakers from both parties and many business and labor groups, say the project would create thousands of jobs and reduce the need for oil imports from Venezuela and other politically turbulent countries.
Opponents say the pipeline would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming, and they also worry about possible spills.
Heineman, who supports the pipeline, said he was "pleased that we're finally going to get to a decision" on a project that has lingered for more than five years.
"This is very significant. It's been at least a year since I sent my approval to the president for our particular route (through Nebraska), and it's taken even longer than that on the federal level," Heineman said in an interview.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he does not provide details on "private conversations that the president has."
Review of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline remains at the State Department, Carney said.
Obama's comment comes less than a week after the project was thrown into apparent legal limbo, when a Nebraska judge overturned a state law that approved the pipeline route through that state. Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled that Nebraska's five-member Public Service Commission should have decided the route.
Nebraska's attorney general has vowed to appeal the ruling, and the Calgary-based company that is building the crude oil pipeline called the ruling a "solvable problem."
The long-delayed project cleared a major hurdle last month, when the State Department reported no major environmental objection.
The 1,179-mile pipeline would travel through the heart of the United States, carrying oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to a hub in Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. It would cross Montana and South Dakota before reaching Nebraska.
Federal agencies have until early May to comment on the State Department report before Secretary of State John Kerry makes a recommendation to Obama on whether the project is in the national interest. State Department approval is needed because the pipeline crosses a U.S. border.
Associated Press writers Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Neb., and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Matthew Daly on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC