Keystone rejection would send strong signal-EU climate chief

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:20pm EST

WASHINGTON Feb 28 (Reuters) - The European Union's top climate change official said on Thursday that if the Obama administration rejects the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, it would send a strong message that the United States is serious on combating climate change.

"That would be an extremely strong signal for the Obama administration," Connie Hedegaard, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, told reporters in a briefing in Washington on Thursday.

Hedegaard has been visiting lawmakers, administration and World Bank officials as well as other groups in Washington and Boston this week. She is due to meet with Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Henry Waxman of California and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island - two of the most vocal supporters of climate legislation in Congress - as well as U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern and White House economic advisor Michael Froman.

Hedegaard said rejecting the controversial pipeline, which if completed will transport 830,000 barrels per day of heavy crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to oil refineries in Texas, would show that the United States would "avoid doing something" that could contribute significantly to climate change.

She also said the EU will stick to its plan to label fuel from Canada's tar sands deposits as "highly polluting," deterring EU refiners bound by strict environmental rules.

Canada's Natural Resources Minister said earlier on Thursday that he is "cautiously optimistic" that TransCanada Corp's proposed pipeline will be approved.

U.S. officials say they expect the government to make a final decision on Keystone by the middle of the year.