The State Department on Friday notified those agencies have only until February 2 "to provide their views on the national interest with regard to the Keystone XL Pipeline permit application," a department official told CNN Saturday, adding that the department "continues its review" of the pipeline's permit application.
The State Department is involved because the pipeline originates outside U.S. borders, and is reviewing whether TransCanada Corp.'s 1,179-mile project is in the national interest. The U.S. government's review had been delayed pending a decision by the Supreme Court of Nebraska, one of the states it would run through. That court recently ruled the pipeline could proceed. So now it is up to the State Department to make its recommendation.
The setting of the deadline for such entities as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Commerce and Interior departments could be a key indicator as observers wait for the administration to make a final determination of its position. The White House has said it was waiting for the State Department's recommendation before making its opinion known.
Proponents of the pipeline got a boost this week with the release of a new CNN/ORC poll
showing a majority of Americans favoring construction of the pipeline, which would bring Canadian oil to the Gulf of Mexico for refining.
The survey said 57% supported it going forward and 28% opposing.
Earlier this month the Republican-majority House of Representatives passed a bill to force construction, arguing it would create jobs and help guarantee energy independence. With Republicans now in control of the Senate, they have also made the Keystone a priority and promised a vote soon.
The Senate resumes debate this coming week, with all 54 Republicans there expected to support it along with as many as nine Democrats.
"It is well past time, some six years past time as far as many of us are concerned. And we would like to see this pipeline moving," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week. "At the end of the day what we're talking about with Keystone XL is jobs."
The White House has threatened that President Obama would veto the measure because Congress is trying to circumvent the current process, and it is unclear if Congress would be able to muster two-thirds of each house to override a veto.
"The President will make the decision that is best for the United States, that process is not finished yet. When it is done, a decision will come. Congress is trying to front run the process for politics," White House Senior Counselor Dan Pfeiffer said on NBC's "Meet the Press."