Moral Low Ground


‘The Moral High Ground’: Obama Administration Rejects Controversial Keystone XL Pipeline

In a major, albeit possibly temporary victory for the environment, the Obama administration has rejected the controversial 2,000-mile Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would have cut across the United States, transporting Canadian oil from Alberta down through six U.S. states to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. In red-lighting the project, the President has stood his ground against Republican lawmakers who gave his administration an untenable ultimatum as well as against Big Oil and billionaire industrialists oblivious to the grave environmental danger posed by the pipeline.

The Guardian reports that the U.S. State Department’s denial of the permit application filed by TransCanada, the Canadian corporation that wants to build the pipeline, is not meant to prevent the company from applying for future projects. The Obama administration’s objections are rooted in the Republican’s bullying, not the actual pipeline itself.

“The rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact,” Obama said in a statement. “This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the state department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.”

Republicans had given the President until next month to decide on the project; the State Department argued that a final decision might not happen until 2013.

The President said that officials would continue to try to find a more suitable route for the pipeline.

Obama’s decision delighted environmentalists and others opposed to the dangerous project.

“Assuming that what we’re hearing is true, this isn’t just the right call, it’s the brave call,” Bill McKibben, an environmentalist who spearheaded efforts to kill Keystone XL, told The Guardian. “The knock on Barack Obama from many quarters has been that he’s too conciliatory. But here, in the face of a naked threat from Big Oil to exact ‘huge political consequences’ he’s stood up strong,” he added.

The conservative government of Canada wasn’t so pleased. Neither was Big Oil, billionaire supporters of the project like the Koch Brothers, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce they control.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Obama’s rejection of the pipeline was made for “very bad political reasons.” According to The Guardian, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver painted pipeline opponents as “foreign radicals” and “jet-setting celebrities.”

“This political decision offers hard evidence that creating jobs is not a high priority for this administration,” Tom Donahue, president of the Chamber, told The Guardian. 

Donahue’s criticism– that Obama is sacrificing jobs for the environment– was predictably echoed by Republican lawmakers and the GOP presidential hopefuls.

“President Obama is about to destroy tens of thousands of American jobs,” a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said.

Republican presidential front runner Mitt Romney said Obama’s decision shows a “lack of seriousness” about reducing unemployment. Newt Gingrich called Obama’s decision “a stunningly stupid thing to do.”

Republicans have vowed to continue pursuing the project.

There are good reasons to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, many of which disprove the disingenuous claims about the project made by its proponents. While Republicans claim the project will create tens of thousands of American jobs, Tar Sands Action points out that TransCanada’s own projections predict “a peak workforce of approximately 3,500 to 4,200 construction personnel,” many of them low-paid temporary workers. And contrary to claims that Keystone XL will lead to lower fuel prices in the United States, independent analyses found that the project would actually increase fuel costs by as much as 20 cents a gallon.

Then there’s the environmental impact of the pipeline, which would pass through some of the most ecologically sensitive and agriculturally productive areas of the country. A rupture in the pipeline could cause horrific environmental harm. And while TransCanada predicted one spill every seven years along the Keystone I Pipeline, there have been a dozen spills over the course of a year. Extracting oil from tar sands is also an incredibly dirty, destructive and energy intensive process that ravages and poisons the environment as well as people’s health. Most importantly, the pipeline will greatly increase carbon emissions, with the Environmental Protection Agency asserting that the project could add an additional 1.15 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

(Source: U.S. State Dep’t.)

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