Obama rejects the Keystone Pipeline

In a major win for climate activists, President Obama announced this morning that the State Department has advised him to reject the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

As the President said, in order to try and reverse (or abate, really) the effects of climate change, “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.”

While that would have been a good enough reason to block the measure — and was the chief concern for those who opposed its construction — Keystone, if built, wouldn’t have even done what its proponents claimed it would do. They said it was a job creator; it would have created exactly 35 permanent jobs. They said it would lower gas prices; this, too, was false, as the oil would be merely passing through the American heartland on its way to other countries. All it would do was make a ton of money for TransCanada, the company that has vowed to press on with its efforts to build the pipeline despite President Obama’s lack of support. As Rebecca Leber wrote back in August:

This decision will be Obama’s final word on the Keystone XL pipeline. But for TransCanada, it won’t be the end of the story. Even if its permit is rejected, TransCanada has a few paths forward for keeping Keystone alive. The company may eye a NAFTA lawsuit arguing trade discrimination, or it may submit a new application under the next president—if it’s a Republican, the company would face a much easier time.

As Leber wrote today, Obama’s reversal on Keystone also helps secure his legacy as the first president to take multiple, big steps against the unimpeded advance of the fossil fuel industry — all while acknowledging that it isn’t enough:

Marchers take part in the Forward on Climate rally on February 17, 2013 in Washington DC, the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Marchers take part in the Forward on Climate rally on February 17, 2013 in Washington DC, the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Obama’s decision to deny the pipeline its permit is his most significant, if symbolic, move to limit the growth of the world’s fossil fuel supply. His other climate initiatives have targeted how we consume fossil fuels, but he’s rarely intervened in the industry’s plans to extract and burn coal, oil, and gas in the first place. The Keystone refusal is the kind of declarative statement environmentalists have long wanted from a world leader, with Obama delivering a message that it’s finally time to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

What’s more, the same pressure climate activists put on Obama to oppose Keystone has already proven effective for the frontrunner to succeed Obama, Hillary Clinton. As with Obama, sustained and pointed criticism of the pipeline — at times via direct action and protest — led Clinton to move from being for it to unsure about it to, finally, against it. While the progressive movement may question her sincerity on the issue, and will give Clinton hell if she reverses her position, the point still stands that oil extraction for oil extraction’s sake has become as bad of a politics as it is a policy — at least within the Democratic Party.

The story of how America went from yes to no on Keystone should serve as a model for activists going forward.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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13 Responses to “Obama rejects the Keystone Pipeline”

  1. Hue-Man says:

    More idiocy from the Tar Sands Brain Trust!

    “At a time when Western Canada’s energy sector is rife with layoffs, Suncor wants to hire 1,700 people for its operations at Fort Hills. But members of the community closest to the oil sands [Fort McMurray] are angry that Suncor is largely bypassing local talent as it fires up activity at its newest
    mine. The oil giant is hiring Fort Hills employees from other Western Canadian cities, such as Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna and Vancouver, to work on a fly-in/fly-out basis.”

    The impacts of cheap oil on Fort McMurray are major:

    “The residential vacancy rate for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is greater than 22 per cent. The unemployment rate is hovering around the 8-per-cent mark and would be higher except many former residents have moved “back home.”

    Real estate agent Lisa Hartigan, Mr. McGroggan’s partner, said Fort McMurray’s house prices have dropped by about 20 per cent. Many of those who have been thrown out of work are being forced to sell their homes and move away, she said.”


  2. Hue-Man says:

    Update from this weekend.

    “A Canadian Pacific (CP.TO 5.69%)
    freight train carrying crude oil through Wisconsin derailed on Sunday,
    knocking 13 cars off the tracks, spilling oil and leading 35 homes to be
    evacuated, in the state’s second derailment in two days.”

    “Earlier on Sunday, the BNSF Railway Co BNISF.UL said its crews had
    stanched the flow of ethanol from a freight train that derailed on
    Saturday about 140 miles (220 km) away in Alma, Wisconsin, after
    thousands of gallons of the denatured alcohol leaked into the
    Mississippi River.”


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  4. The_Fixer says:

    Oh, these people will be back to try this again. When there’s buckets-full of money to be made, they’ll keep trying.

    I’m glad that President Obama got this one correct. But if we get someone sympathetic to this debacle in there as the next president, it will come back. You can bet on that.

  5. Indigo says:

    What can we say?

  6. mark_in_toronto says:

    You’re welcome.

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  8. Indigo says:

    And then the Conservatives lost in Canada, prices dropped, Trudeau’s government opposed it, and the bid was shut down. That made it safe for the State Department to recommend opposing it.

  9. Chutney Bridge says:

    this guy Obozo is really a moron. Reminds me a lot of 4 Chin Chutney

  10. Indigo says:

    Oh, look! Canada votes liberal and Obama grows balls in the same week. Thank you, Canada.

  11. BeccaM says:

    Good. The pipeline was never anything other than a total fraud which would have done nothing for the U.S. energy supply. Why? Because they were building the sludge pipe all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, which was the most convenient point to load that sludge onto tankers to be shipped to countries like China. Otherwise there would have been no point in having a pipeline any further than North Dakota or perhaps a refinery at the navigable headwaters of some convenient river.

    The sole motive was profits for BigOil and to serve as a political football for GOPers.

    Fracking and off-shore drilling though, are even worse than this one pipeline. We needed to stop burning fossil fuels in the 1980s. Now it may very well be too late…and still we’re not stopping.

  12. Bill_Perdue says:

    Good. Now lets get to work to force him to change his mind about fracking and offshore drilling.

    Fracking “After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it.” Obama State of the Union 2013 http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2013/02/12/president-obama-gets-it-fracking-is-awesome/

    In a new study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that homes located in suburban and rural areas near fracking sites have an overall radon concentration 39 percent higher than those located in non-fracking urban areas.” From the journal Environmental Health Perspectives via AlterNet.

    Offshore Drilling ” Not Just the Atlantic: Obama Leasing Millions of Gulf Acres for Offshore Drilling – Deploying the age-old “Friday news dump,” President Barack Obama’s Interior Department gave the green light on Friday, July 18 to companies to deploy seismic air guns to examine the scope of Atlantic Coast offshore oil-and-gas reserves. It is the first time in over 30 years that the oil and gas industry is permitted to do geophysical data collection along the Atlantic coast. Though decried by environmentalists, another offshore oil and gas announcement made the same week has flown under the radar: over 21 million acres of Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas reserves will be up for lease on August 20 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Superdome.http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/07/23/not-just-atlantic-obama-leasing-millions-gulf-acres-offshore-drilling

    Offshore drilling in the Arctic Sea “The Obama administration has given conditional approval to Shell to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic this summer, dealing a major blow to environmentalists who have sought to protect the vulnerable Beaufort and Chuchki Seas from fossil fuel exploration.

    “Arctic drilling is climate denial, plain and simple,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of climate activist organization 350.org, tweeted after the announcement. “Shameful decision by [President Barack Obama] to allow Shell to drill.” http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/05/11/climate-denial-plain-and-simple-feds-approve-shells-arctic-drilling-plan

  13. hauksdottir says:

    Running a leaky filthy-oil pipeline through America’s largest aquifer is a mind-numbing stupid idea… even if all the promises were fulfilled 10 times over.

    We need that water!

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