The State Department on Wednesday turned down TransCanada Corp.'s request to delay review of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, signaling that the Obama administration is likely to reject a proposal that has been the focus of heated debate for years.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said officials had sent a letter to the company to reject its request for a suspension of the review of the project, intended to carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Kirby said there was "no legal basis" to halt the government review simply because the company asked for it.
Suspending the review probably would mean pushing a final decision past the 2016 presidential election. Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton recently said she would not approve the project, while Republican candidates largely support the proposed pipeline.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that "there may be politics at play" in TransCanada's request for a suspension.
He and other administration officials have strongly implied that President Obama wants to complete the review and settle the issue.
"The president has said that … he would like to have this determination be completed before he leaves office," Earnest said.
Mark Cooper, a spokesman for TransCanada, said in a statement that the company respected the State Department's decision.
He said TransCanada would continue trying to show "that Keystone XL is in the national interest of the United States, just as five reports and 17,000 pages of State Department review have demonstrated over the past seven-plus years."
The $10-billion, 1,700-mile pipeline would cross six states, carrying oil from Canada's tar sands region to Nebraska. Other pipelines then would carry it to the Gulf Coast for refining.
Keystone has long been a target of environmental and liberal groups, who object to it on the grounds that it would increase reliance on fossil fuels.
Its defenders say it would create jobs, cut domestic energy prices and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers.
The falling price of oil over the last year has raised growing doubts about the economics of the pipeline, however, with some analysts arguing that it is no longer financially viable.
Analysts expect Obama to reject the project before a United Nations climate summit he will attend in Paris in December, to show he is willing to take tough steps to slow global warming.
The decision could be an important piece of his legacy on environmental protection.