Obama Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline
President Barack Obama on Friday rejected the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada in what environmentalists hailed as a major victory in the battle against climate change.
“America’s now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama told reporters in the White House’s Roosevelt Room as Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry stood by his side. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face, not acting.”
Obama added that immediate action is necessary to “protect the one planet we’ve got while we still can.”
Rejecting claims by pipeline supporters that the project would be an economic boon, Obama said Keystone XL “would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy,” nor would it increase US energy security.
Kerry, who had earlier determined that the pipeline was not in America’s best interest, said approving Keystone “would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combating climate change.”
“The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves,” added Kerry.
The highly controversial and contentious 1,179-mile (1,897-km) pipeline would have carried some 800,000 barrels of carbon-heavy petroleum from the oil sands of Alberta down into Nebraska and, eventually, to the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada, the corporation behind the pipeline, first sought the required presidential permit for the international project in 2008. But a groundswell of opposition and activism from environmentalists, indigenous groups, landowners and others led to a State Department rejection of TransCanada’s permit application in January 2012.
Earlier this week, TransCanada asked the State Department to suspend its permit application in a move that critics claim was meant to postpone a US decision on the project until after Obama leaves office in 2017 and, perhaps, a more pipeline-friendly president replaces him.
All Republican presidential candidates support Keystone XL, while all the Democratic candidates say they oppose it. The project lost key support with the ouster last month of long-ruling Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a staunch pipeline supporter, and with the election in May of a left-leaning New Democratic Party government in Alberta that has stopped pro-pipeline lobbying. Newly-sworn-in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he supports Keystone XL but will not make the pipeline a priority in Canadian-US relations.
On Friday, Trudeau expressed his disappointment at Obama’s decision but said that Canada’s relationship with the US “is much bigger than any one project.”
Since it first applied for a permit in late 2008, TransCanada has spent at least $2.5 billion on the project. On Friday, TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling released a statement lamenting Obama’s decision.
“Today, misplaced symbolism was chosen over merit and science, rhetoric won out over reason,” Girling’s statement read in part.
Keystone XL opponents welcomed Obama’s expected rejection of the pipeline project.
“This is a big win,” Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental group 350.org, told Reuters. McKibben added that Obama’s decision “is nothing short of historic, and sets an important precedent that should send shockwaves through the fossil fuel industry.”
“President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate,” McKibben’s statement added. “That gives him new stature as an environmental leader, and it eloquently confirms the five years and millions of hours of work that people of every kind put into this fight. We are… well aware that the next president could undo all this, but this is a day of celebration.”
Nebraska farmer Jim Knopik, through whose land the pipeline would have passed, told the Washington Post he was relieved by the president’s decision.
“I think it’s long overdue,” said Knopik. “I’m just glad that it’s coming to an end and that the State Department and President Obama finally are coming out rejecting that thing. It’s pretty obvious to those of us living out here what damages can come from something like that. With climate change and all the other things in the air I think it’s going to be a really good thing.”
Many progressive politicians also hailed Obama’s move.
“Climate change is a global environmental crisis of huge magnitude,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. “It is insane for anyone to be supporting the excavation and transportation of some of the dirtiest fuel on earth. As someone who has led the opposition to the Keystone pipeline from day one, I strongly applaud the president’s decision to kill this project once and for all.”
Pipeline supporters blasted Obama’s decision.
“This decision isn’t surprising, but it is sickening,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said. “By rejecting this pipeline, the president is rejecting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. He is rejecting our largest trading partner and energy supplier. He is rejecting the will of the American people and a bipartisan majority of the Congress.”
“President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline is a huge mistake, and is the latest reminder that this administration continues to prioritize the demands of radical environmentalists over America’s energy security,’’ said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is seeking the Republican nomination for president. “When I’m president, Keystone will be approved, and President Obama’s backward energy policies will come to an end.’’
“[Obama] has thumbed his nose at more than two thirds of Americans who support reducing energy imports from unfriendly nations; who support job creation; who support friendly relations with our Canadian neighbors; who support regulatory decisions based on science, not politics; and who support big ideas and big achievements,” Michael Whatley, vice president of the fossil fuel industry lobby group Consumer Energy Alliance, said in a statement. “This decision clearly flies in the face of volumes of scientific evidence that shows the Keystone XL pipeline would be safe, enhance environmental standards, and be a more cost-effective alternative to importing oil from overseas.”
But pipeline opponents have long argued that Keystone XL would put people and wildlife at risk from toxic oil spills, polluted water and other dangers.
“The Keystone XL pipeline will slice through America’s agricultural heartland, the Missouri, Platte, and Niobrara Rivers, the Ogallala aquifer, habitat for sage grouse and sandhill cranes, walleye fisheries and much more,” warns the National Wildlife Federation. “Our public water supplies, croplands, and recreational opportunities will all be at risk of dangerous tar sands oil spills like the million-gallon Enbridge oil spill in Michigan.”
The proposed pipeline route would have passed through some of the most ecologically sensitive and agriculturally productive areas of the country. A rupture in the pipeline could cause enormous 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 human health. Most importantly, Keystone XL would have greatly increased 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.