Stunning Triumph for 99%: Obama Sends Keystone XL Back to State for Review, McKibben Calls This “A Very Important Day”

Big news: We won. You won.

That’s Bill McKibben’s headline at Tar Sands Action (full statement below).

In a stunning reversal of a “done deal,” the Obama administration has sent the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline back to review at the State Department:

… the Department has determined it is necessary to examine in-depth alternative routes that would avoid the Sand Hills in Nebraska in order to move forward with a National Interest Determination for the Presidential Permit.

There will be a “supplemental” environmental impact statement — presumably one that isn’t rigged (see “Bombshell: State Department Outsourced Tar Sands Pipeline Environmental Impact Study to ‘Major’ TransCanada Contractor.”  It “could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2013.”

Yes, Obama has punted this until after the election, but don’t undersell what just happened.  Bill McKibben is the man most responsible for leading the charge to kill the pipeline, and as he wrote me, “a done deal has come spectacularly undone.”  He added:

The people spoke very loudly, and thankfully the president appears to have heard them. We have had few enough even partial victories on climate change in Washington. That makes this a very important day.

In his statement at Tar Sands Action, McKibben writes, “most analysts are saying [the delay] will effectively kill the project.”  While we must continue to hold Obama’s feet to the fire burning planet, I agree with that assessment.

The people, the 99%, have won a victory over the 1% — the only group that would have profited from this pipeline.

Here is the McKibben’s eloquent, must-read statement (followed by the State Department’s and Obama’s):

Big news: We won. You won.

Um, we won. You won.

Not completely. The president didn’t outright reject the pipeline permit. My particular fantasy–that he would invite the 1253 people arrested on his doorstep in August inside the gates for a victory picnic by the vegetable garden–didn’t materialize.

But a few minutes ago the president sent the pipeline back to the State Department for a thorough re-review, which most analysts are saying will effectively kill the project. The president explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess. There’s no way, with an honest review, that a pipeline that helps speed the tapping of the world’s second-largest pool of carbon can pass environmental muster.

And he has made clear that the environmental assessment won’t be carried out by cronies of the pipeline company–that it will be an expert and independent assessment. We will watch that process like hawks, making sure that it doesn’t succumb to more cronyism. Perhaps this effort will go some tiny way towards cleaning up the Washington culture of corporate dominance that came so dramatically to light here in emails and lobbyist disclosure forms.

It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end.  As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.

The American people spoke loudly about climate change and the president responded. There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day.

The president deserves thanks for making this call–it’s not easy in the face of the fossil fuel industry and its endless reserves of cash. The deepest thanks, however, go to you: to our indigenous peoples who began the fight, to the folks in Nebraska who rallied so fiercely, to the scientists who explained the stakes, to the environmental groups who joined with passionate common purpose, to the campuses that lit up with activity, to the faith leaders that raised a moral cry, to the labor leaders who recognized where our economic future lies, to the Occupy movement that helped galvanize revulsion at insider dealing, and most of all to the people in every state and province who built the movement that made this decision inevitable.

Our fight, of course, is barely begun. Some in our movement will say that this decision is just politics as usual: that the president wants us off the streets – and off his front lawn – until after the election, at which point the administration can approve the pipeline, alienating its supporters without electoral consequence. The president should know that If this pipeline proposal somehow reemerges from the review process we will use every tool at our disposal to keep it from ever being built; if there’s a lesson of the last few months, both in our work and in the Occupy encampments around the world, it’s that sometimes we have to put our bodies on the line.

We need to let the president and oil companies know that we’re ready to take action should they try to push this pipeline through in a couple of years. There’s a pledge to take nonviolent action against the pipeline up on our site, and I’ll be keeping your names an emails safely stored away so that you’ll be the first to know about anything we need to do down the road. You can sign the pledge here:

In the meantime, since federal action will be in abeyance for a long stretch, we need to figure out how best to support our Canadian brothers and sisters, who are effectively battling against proposed pipelines west from the tar sands to the Pacific. And we need to broaden our work to take on all the forms of ‘extreme energy’ now coming to the fore: mountaintop removal coal mining, deepsea oil drilling, fracking for gas and oil. We’ll keep sending you updates from; you keep letting us know what we need to do next.

Last week, scientists announced that the planet had poured a record amount of co2 into the atmosphere last year; that’s a sign of how desperate our battle is. But we take courage from today’s White House announcement; it gives us some clues about how to fight going forward.

And I simply can’t say thank you enough. I know, because of my own weariness, how hard so many of you have worked. It was good work, done in the right spirit, and it has secured an unlikely victory. You are the cause of that victory; you upended enormous odds.

I’m going to bed tired tonight. But I’ll get up in the morning ready for the next battle, more confident because I know you’re part of this fight too.

Bill McKibben, for

The State Department statement is here: “Keystone XL Pipeline Project Review Process: Decision to Seek Additional Information.” It states:

… given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska….

Based on the Department’s experience with pipeline project reviews and the time typically required for environmental reviews of similar scope by other agencies, it is reasonable to expect that this process including a public comment period on a supplement to the final EIS consistent with NEPA could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2013. After obtaining the additional information, the Department would determine, in consultation with the eight other agencies identified in the Executive Order, whether the proposed pipeline was in the national interest, considering all of the relevant issues together. Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

President Obama released this statement:

I support the State Department’s announcement today regarding the need to seek additional information about the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal.  Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood.  The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.  At the same time, my administration will build on the unprecedented progress we’ve made towards strengthening our nation’s energy security, from responsibly expanding domestic oil and gas production to nearly doubling the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks, to continued progress in the development of a clean energy economy.

It is an important day.  Activism matters.  Thanks to all of you who helped get us to this point.


60 Responses to Stunning Triumph for 99%: Obama Sends Keystone XL Back to State for Review, McKibben Calls This “A Very Important Day”

  1. mulp says:

    This is no victory.

    This is merely a chance for a do-over of 2010.

    And nothing Obama could possibly do or have done would kill the mining of the tar sands.

    The only way the US can prevent the mining of the tar sands is by imposing a carbon tax that drives the market to eliminate such expensive oil production as in any way competitive.

    Where were the environmentalists in 2010 when the Senate which was way too conservative to pass a minimalist clean energy policy was moved a good way to the “pillage and plunder the planet” extreme?

    Based on the representatives We the People elected, the President of all the We the People should respect the wishes of We the People to engage in drill baby drill pillage and plunder.

    We do not elect dictators; we elect representatives to Congress who write the laws, and the laws favored by the We the People democracy are heavily in favor of pillage and plunder because most of us who get to vote will be dead before those not old enough to vote or not born yet are faced with the cost of pillage and plunder for the past four decades when We the People decided that maybe Richard Nixon was way too leftist a tree hugger.

  2. M Tucker says:

    Congratulations on successfully delaying the extension to the already existing Keystone pipeline! It is unfortunate that it will not end US importation of Canadian tar sand “oil.” This is a very big deal but a very small step in the big picture of relentless oil exploration, exploitation, and production.

  3. Leo Elshof says:

    Bill and Joe

    Well done! Not all Canadians wanted this dirty pipeline project, so your victory is also our victory.
    Thank you for all the hard work.

  4. Mark says:

    Yes congrats so far. However, I haven’t been impressed with the follow-thru on Obama’s promises in the last campaign, and all we have achieved thus far is a delay until there are no real consequences for him if he then rubber stamps it.

  5. prokaryotes says:

    Good, Good Good!

    Yes, we can!

  6. Leif says:

    This should have been a no brainer. I am happy for the reprieve but Obama has a long way to go to get out of my dog house. When people bring up the costs of renewable energy I want Obama to come right back in their face and point out how current capitalism is degrading the ecosystems that all life depends. Oceans, air, earth, the whole shebang. That a billion people do not have safe drinking water. More billions do not have food enough to prevent starvation in their children or themselves. That Nations are already having to abandon homelands to cope with current climatic disruption. There are millions more climatic refuges predicted in less than 30 years. Apologize my ass, take the GOBP to the carpet. They will make Hitler look like a Saint before the end of the century without curtailment.

  7. prokaryotes says:

    “When President Obama stands up to big oil, we stand with him,” Bold Nebraska leader Jane Kleeb responded.

  8. Artful Dodger says:

    … the battle, not the war. Rest well, for tomorrow we battle once more.

  9. McKibben = hero. Again.

    While lots of us talk about getting people active in climate efforts, McKibben keeps actually doing it. He has a great knack for seeing actions that people will step up and take part in. The global days have been amazing and now the Keystone XL protests.

    What next?

  10. nyc-tornado10 says:

    “The president should know that If this pipeline proposal somehow reemerges from the review process we will use every tool at our disposal to keep it from ever being built”

    In another year, the occupy wall street movement, and related movements, will be larger and better organized. Unfortunately, in a year there will likely be even greater devestation from global warming, like the surge in weather related catastrophes in america and around the world.

  11. Tom Smerling says:

    When I went to the WH to be arrested, I didn’t think we had a ghost of a chance of winning.

    Lots of lessons learned. 1) to do the right thing Obama needs pressure from the left, because he’ll always look for the “center.” 2) don’t underestimate the power of grassroots action. 3) what you lack in numbers you can make up for with intensity and creativity. 4) make the issue concrete, with a specific, winnable demand. and more….

    Bill McK deserves a lot of credit for strategic and tactical smarts. I hope OWS is paying attention.

  12. The important victory here in my mind is that it denied a rubber stamp to fossil fuel expansion plans. That is a huge deal on many levels: economic, political, psychological.

    Economic: Big Tar has to front load billions to explode the carbon bomb at the pace they want. Those billions come with expectations for date of return on investment. The more uncertainty in timing and scale and pacing the less will get invested. TransCanada already bought half the pipe. They already have paid for right-of-way they can’t use. They have already moved pipe into areas that won’t have a pipeline. Meanwhile Big Tar has poured billions into ramping up production that they currently don’t have a way to get to market once it comes on line. Finally, delay on Keystone XL costs money and alternatives like rail cost far more. These are all “carbon taxes” being applied to the tar sands expansion plans. Perfect.

    Political: What a revolving door shady deal these political/corporate/lobbying rubber stamp deals are, eh? Keystone XL got busted big time on this cozy and quick scheme. That makes it harder to do the next one. And it forces politicians to discuss climate impacts which none want to.

    Psychological: The real weapon that Big Carbon has is the sense that no matter how heinous their industry is, their BAU plans are “inevitable”. Resistance is futile. It is just how the world works. But Keystone XL just put a big “maybe not” in that armour. Remember, the emperor was never wearing clothes all those years of parading around. Once Big Carbon loses the patina of an invulnerable and inevitable juggernaut the wall will come down quickly.

  13. Bob Geiger says:

    I love your last paragraph, Barry. Mindsets, and the reality that follows from them, can change quickly.

  14. Raul M. says:

    Let’s see, do I calculate making 1 ton of biochar with my hobo stove to compensate for 1 ton of coal?
    In making a cup of biochar an hour it would take how long to fill up the dump truck?
    Somehow there has got to be a better way for business to make a reverse gear for climate change.

  15. Joan Savage says:

    I’m thinking it is time to get to work to win back some seats in Congress.

    A shift in Congress could change many things before 2013, including everything on the State Department list, “Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.”

    As Bill McKibben wrote, “I’m going to bed tired tonight. But I’ll get up in the morning ready for the next battle..”

  16. Adrian says:

    One battle won, countless more to go–yet it is inspiriting–I didn’t make it to DC, but like a lot of folks, I’ve been signing petitions, calling my legislators, writing and calling the White House since the beginning–and participated in the recent Chicago action–for it seems like so long, and assuming always that it would end badly, but knowing one must do something to help, regardless. And now this!

    Enjoy it this evening, and then heave, ho–back to work in the morning.

  17. Richard Miller says:

    I think this is a really big deal. It could wake up environmental groups to a winning strategy that they have long neglected; namely, protests. Remember human communities are also non-linear systems, forcing from a small number of people can make a big difference. McKibben’s leadership and this outcome are a good example of this, even though the war has hardly been won.

    It is important to realize how many people in the US belong to environmental groups.

    Here is a quote from Dr. Robert Brulle’s essay entitled the “The US Environmental Movement”, which you can find at :
    “The U.S. environmental movement is perhaps the single largest social movement in the United States. With over 6,500 national and 20,000 local environmental organizations, along with an estimated 20-30 million members, this movement dwarfs other modern social movements such as the civil rights or peace movements. It is also the longest running social movement.”

    That represents a great deal of people power and political leverage that has not for a long time been properly utilized.

    For a guide, following the work of Gene Sharp, on properly utilizing people power see here –

    If environmental organizations got together and really began to communicate to their members that climate change is not simply more extreme weather, etc., but that climate change means mass death of human populations and mass extinction of species, then I think their members would begin to grasp what is at stake.

    You then could have a summit of environmental organizations. At this summit, there would be a written document produced that would tell Democrats that these groups and their members are going to walk away from the Democratic party during the next election if Obama goes ahead with further coal leases in Wyoming, etc. This could be accompanied by protests, etc. This would force Democrats to be much more responsible on climate issues.

    This is not starting a new party; rather, it is using existing groups to fully utilize their power. We are sitting on a great deal of power and the triumph wakes us up to our power. So this apparently small victory in the larger effort to avoid the climate catastrophe is very significant.

  18. riverat says:

    Wasn’t the governor of Nebraska raising a big stink about it too? That had to help. At least it gave the administration some cover that they weren’t just caving in on it.

  19. Jeff Huggins says:

    Sorry: This Is No Win (not even winning a battle, let alone the war). Instead, it is Merely a Move (as a move in a chess game) that puts the next move back in our court, and indeed calls for a next move on our part. In short: Whether this results in a Good Thing, or merely continues a Fool’s Game, depends entirely on what questions we will post to Candidate Obama BEFORE the next Election, and on what Requirements we place on him as a Condition for Our Votes in that Election.

    Sorry to break the bad news.

    To be clear, this is not a criticism of the great efforts of all of those who have demonstrated on behalf of the need to say ‘NO’ to the pipeline. Bravo to those efforts! But, that said, in my view, whether this move on the Administration’s part today (after all, can it honestly and wisely be seen as anything other than a move?) will ultimately have a net-net good result, or a net-net bad result, will depend on large part on what WE do BEFORE the election.

    Consider the State Department’s announcement, honestly now. Its main emphasis — and indeed its only emphasis — involves the issue of the pipeline’s route. The State Department’s announcement essentially says that issues involving the route must be better considered, and alternative routes assessed.

    Meanwhile, what does the President’s statement add? Read it and ask yourself, what does the President’s statement actually say in terms of substance that means anything, that can be trusted, that can be relied upon? The answer: absolutely nothing. The President’s statement is nothing but vague political meaningless gobbledygook.

    The Administration has done one thing: it has delayed a decision in order to avoid needing to make a choice, a choice that will either offend its environmental-oriented supporters (who will display by our actions in coming months how gullible we are, or aren’t) or its labor-oriented supporters. I have never in my life seen a more contrived political move, at least not one involving an issue like this.

    This is a MOVE on the Administration’s part, not a win (of a battle or a war) against the pipeline itself. The State Department’s statement emphasizes the issue of routes. The President’s statement is essentially meaningless vagueness. What the Administration has accomplished is to tie our hopeful desire (but with no guarantee, or even a promise) for a ‘NO’ decision to Keystone XL to a vote for Obama. Without even offering a promise or even a hint to us — other than meaningless vagueness — the President manages to shift our hope for a ‘NO’ to Keystone XL into a felt-need to vote for him, again, no promises!

    Give me a break!

    I must say this, however: on this particular matter, the President seems to be a much better tactician than our climate-cause leaders are. Why do I say this? Because we have been saying “please (but we’ll vote for you anyhow)” to the President, unwilling even to make our votes conditional upon getting a ‘NO’ to Keystone XL decision from him. Our climate-cause leaders have been unwilling to utilize REAL leverage, unwilling to state it clearly. In return, President Obama, by this move, manages to create a situation in which HE has the leverage over us, in which we feel we have to vote for him even to get the privilege of seeing how he’ll decide regarding Keystone XL. In terms of leverage, we were unwilling to even use ours; and he manages, with this move, to pull the carpet out from under us, and to gain all the leverage (over the movement) back. Wow! A great move on the Administration’s part — not against the pipeline itself (after all, a move against the pipeline itself would have been a ‘NO’ decision), but instead against us, yes us.

    But that DEPENDS on what the movement does next. Because we can (and now should and must) pose clear questions to the President regarding how he WILL rule on Keystone XL.

    In any case, I will not be voting for the President again unless he tells us very clearly, in no uncertain terms, during the pre-election campaign, that he will indeed say ‘NO’ to Keystone XL when the time comes. If he doesn’t tell us that, he won’t get my vote next November.

    If that sounds like the decision today was a ‘win’, then call it a ‘win’ if you want.

    (To those who disagree, please let me know why, precisely, you disagree. Please do so after you’ve read the State Department’s statement clearly, and after you’ve read the President’s statement clearly, and after you’ve considered my points here.)

    Sorry to rain on what seems to be a very premature party. It feels to me like too many people are continuing to drink the nothing-more-than-Koolaid that the Administration keeps serving us.

    Be Well,


  20. Jan says:

    Why can’t he say NO NOW? This is simply putting off the inevitable until after the election so Obama doesn’t have to take a real stand and anger any one group he needs to get re-elected. I can wager this will be put off until next year and at that time it will be approved with the same route. Afterall, Obama would not need to campaign again then. And, those who actually came out to fight only for it to be rerouted are also wrong. It needs to be killed completely. All this does is put it off for a year, with BP already getting access to the Gulf again and Shell getting access to the Arctic. How is that a victory? Obama does not have what it takes to truly be a leader and take a definitive moral stand against big oil. This was his chance, and he failed us. Very disappointing.

  21. The key thing to remember is that the more high-emissions infrastructure we build now the more we’ll have to scrap later, and it’s easier to stop things from being built than to scrap them after they are generating revenue.

  22. Paul magnus says:

    Well done Bill.

    Your efforts are truly appreciated!

    Keep going. The world is turning.

  23. Mike Roddy says:

    Thank you, Bill McKibben. Whatever quibbles some of us have about what will actually happen in 2013 are not important.

    Let’s take a win, however humble. And if they try the same thing in 2013, we must kick them again.

  24. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Congrats all you folks.

    Hope you’ve got the message now – put away your dependency and realize that you can reclaim your country. Didn’t Obama say ‘make me do it’? Methinks he understands his country. He is playing a ‘long’ game.

    And remember, reality is on your side and eventually reality always wins. I know that so many of you are frustrated, depressed or cynical: I read it hear every day. But it’s never over till it’s over, ME

  25. mulp says:

    Elon Musk has done more to kill mining Canadian tar sands than McKibben’s symbolic and futile efforts. The Tesla Roadster drove Bob Lutz to demand GM build the Volt – he refused to be shown up by an outsider who could deliver an electric car while GM and Ford were testifying in court saying it was impossible to build a production electric car anyone would buy.

    But to get to an electric future, we will need mega-scale lithium mining, mega-scale wind, mega-scale high voltage DC power lines, mega-scale solar, everyone of which will be attacked by both the environ-wackos and Koch brothers in alliance, both trying to freeze the global economy in the past.

    But the real progress on energy in the US, with the US leading, requires about 65-70 Democratic Senators (that will determine the House super-majority and White House).

    Unfortunately, McKibben and other policy wonks don’t get the politics of the USA that demands a super-majority by design of the voters to do big things. Instead they hope for a good dictator, but that’s not the Constitution we have. Why the action this year on the XL Pipeline when the same size demonstrations and activism were needed every month since 1971, with the demonstrations increasing to continuous occupation of DC beginning in 1981.

    This demonstration at the White House was 30 years too late.

  26. mulp says:

    Jan, when you let the Republicans increase seats in Congress in 2010 instead of increasing the Democratic majority in the Senate, you sent the clear message of “drill baby drill” and “pillage and plunder mother earth now” because we do not want green jobs or a cleaner environment The message you sent in 2010 was, “please Speaker Boehner, make it legal to pollute.”

  27. Peter Mizla says:

    The ‘us’ 99% have at last something to cheer about. Obama has finally stood for what he was elected to do.

  28. Joe Romm says:

    Wanna bet?

  29. darth says:

    This is a great victory – kudos to McKibben et al, but ‘mulp’ brings up some interesting points.

    How about this for a worst case scenario:

    Obama is shrewd – he didn’t just say no, he delays until after the election. He is leveraging the energy that McKibben et al have created to support his re-election, because we all know if Obama loses next year the pipeline will be instantly approved. So greens turn out big for campaigning and the election.

    Meanwhile, Obama can secretly tell the unions (who want the pipeline for the jobs) to support him and he will approve it next year. Once he wins the election, he doesn’t need the environmentalists support anymore and can then decide to approve it appease the unions.

    Farfetched? I hope so and I hope the pipeline is really dead, but I’m cynical.

    “Don’t be too proud of this environmental movement you’ve created. The ability to stop a pipeline is insignificant next to the power of big politics.”

  30. Brooks Bridges says:

    We don’t have a parliamentary system so NOT voting for Obama = voting FOR a much greater evil.

    It’s very simple math.

    So, reality says we have to use other tools to get what we want done IN this country AT this time.

    What Bill McKibben has shown is that getting many feet on the pavement is a very effective tool.

    Obama listened.

  31. NigelSt.Hubbins says:

    This qualifies as a victory given this White House — and certainly feels better than another poke in the eye with a sharp stick. That said, I a little surprised that more is not being said about about the failure of the President to mention the “c word” in his statement, and the State Department’s nearly laser-like focus on the routing of the pipeline in Nebraska in its statement. It is a little difficult to disagree with the oil industry shil who opined that the Republican governor of Nebraska provided the President the “escape hatch” he needed to delay the decision past the election. It is a challenge to be optimistic about the ultimate decision on the pipeline when the White House is too timorous to even utter the words “climate change” when it seems probable that the routing/aquifer issue could be successfully addressed by the developers. Buying some time and hoping for some improvement in the political situation may be the most we could hope for but it still seems quite an uphill battle to me.

  32. Terry says:

    Jeff, I appreciate the critical nature of your comments & observations as many of them are connected to deep truth BUT (and notice it is a very big “but”)this moment is indeed of history in the making and it needs to be savored however briefly. Someday in the far distant future, ou grandchildren may hold up this day as THE DAY that we won the first small victory in what will be a long & difficult campaign to protect their future. It is all about less electronic blogging and more about getting people with their bodies on the ground participating in actions THAT must be responded to. So next week, I will return to D.C. for the 4th time this year to continue this fight. May God guide our efforts to create a future where all will have a chance to live & be well.

  33. Brooks Bridges says:

    You’re right saying “Why now?” I think it’s because we are lizard brained when it comes to danger. If not imminent, the fight or flight response isn’t activated. Our logical brains try, but can’t evoke the proper levels of response. The delaying action by the fossile fuel companies has tapped into that very effectively.

    So, unfortunately, and to paraphrase someone I don’t admire, we go into this battle with the humans we’ve got, not the humans we’d like to have – and hope it’s not too late.

    The good news is that as WWII showed, we CAN do incredible things in a very short time once the lizard brain kicks in – and the increasing weather catastrophes are having an effect.

  34. Joan Savage says:

    Good Morning!
    I agree.

  35. Joan Savage says:

    Two things I want to see accomplished in the near future. I don’t have much of a handle on the first, but I do on the second.

    Continue to develop jobs that are adaptable for union pipe fitters and other rough necks, jobs that pay as well as an oil pipeline. e.g. We have a huge backlog of repairs for water supply and sewer lines. Buried power lines make sense in locations with frequent high winds.

    We can work to get the message through to our congressional representatives to get on board, e.g. limit new anthropogenic influence on climate change, prepare to adapt to the irreversible extent climate change, and support emergency management that meets the challenges of extreme weather.

  36. Tim says:

    I am stunned right now. This is a real victory. As a Nebraskan I participated in rallys and supported BoldNebraska, the main group opposing the pipeline in Nebraska. But when I was interviewed after a rally at the Governor’s mansion this summer I said I didn’t really believe a delay or cancellation of the project was possible. Transcanada had billions on the line for getting it done without delay. I certainly didn’t believe Obama would have the guts to step in and do anything. Today I am happy to be wrong.

  37. Sasparilla says:

    Your scenario seems, to me, the probable path of what will happen as Obama did this previously.

    Elected at the end of 2008, into office early 2009, threw all that climate change rhetoric over the side and approved two XL class tar sands pipelines in the summer of 2009 (Keystone 1 and Alberta Clipper) which are now in operation.

  38. Sasparilla says:

    This is a great tactical victory (just delaying the rigged bought off rubber stamp of the XL pipeline is huge) and congratulations to Bill McKibben and the folks that demonstrated – they made this happen.

    IMO, this wasn’t Obama making a choice, he was bullied into this position (his preference for what he wanted to do was clear from how the project was set up).

    That said, I don’t see why this would kill the project as there is too much money wanting that to go forward – I hope Bill and whoever the analysts he’s talking about are right and its over but that seems implausible – I would expect Obama to just have it both ways (like he did for the tar sands Keystone 1 and Alberta Clipper right after he was elected), do a little reroute along the path of Keystone 1 say we’ve solved the aquifer issue (since he never mentioned climate change, just ignore that some more) and viola time to approve and “enhance the energy security of the US”. I hope that’s not the case, time will tell.

  39. Phil Blackwood says:

    President Obama had a poorly done assessment by the Dept. of State, and recognized it. His decision to re-do the assessment is correct from a procedural point of view. It’s good news that the pipeline is not being built now, which is a win. Let’s make sure we put the heat on again when the new assessment is closer to being final.

  40. Jan says:

    “I” didnt either of those things. And the Keystone decision is HIS and HIS alone. Please stop with the excuses.

  41. Morris Meyer says:

    I had an incredible time last Sunday – it was priceless seeing the environmental movement get some teeth.

    I hope we build on this success, by electing Obama next year so we have someone who is not going to rubber stamp the pipeline, then increasing the pressure (100, 000 around the White House) to kill the pipeline.

    After killing the pipeline we increase the pressure (1M on the Mall) for making a price on carbon as the heavy lift for the second term.

    Millions protested the Iraq War and Bush did it anyway. 12K protested Keystone XL and were heard. We’ve got a President we can work with.

  42. Jeff Huggins says:

    Joe: Given the situation and my points, “Wanna bet?” is neither the relevant question, nor does it address my points.

    Indeed, it’s not even ‘a’ relevant question, under the circumstances.

    After all, this MOVE on the Administration’s part does not put to an end the question of what we — people concerned with climate change, voters — might or should do BEFORE the election in order to get answers from Obama, put questions to him, find out clearly where he stands, state our requirements clearly, and decide whether to vote for him or not. These are real questions, and they didn’t (or don’t) go away. Indeed, this MOVE on Obama’s part makes them as acute and necessary as ever.

    So that means this: We can decide whether to challenge each other to bet, and make bets with each other (about what? whether he’ll approve the pipeline or not after the election? whether he’ll win the election? what?) or instead, we can discuss the practical and necessary questions: e.g., what are the best things to do, now, in order to maximize the chances that the pipeline will not be approved; and in order to gain understanding about candidate Obama before we have to decide whether to vote for him; and in order to know what we’re voting for, or might vote for, before we have to vote?

    So, we can pose bets to each other, or we can discuss and address real questions, questions that should be discussed — potentially actionable questions.

    As you know, one of the main macro issues associated with climate change is this: will we realize that we should address risk before the harms happen, or will we live with risk and fail to act; will we just wait to see what happens? The same issue applies here. You ask me to bet? Let’s say I bet that Obama will approve Keystone XL if we merely reelect him without any demands for a promise on his part. And let’s say that you bet that he’ll say ‘NO’ to the pipeline after elected, even if we don’t demand a pledge from him to do so as a condition for voting for him. Then we sit and wait, and maybe have a few more “please Mr. President” demonstrations. I ask, what good would that do? You and I would have a fun bet in place, but we’d be leaving the real matters — the important ones — to whatever direction the winds (within Obama’s mind) happen to blow.

    So the question is not “Wanna bet?”. Instead, it is whether CP will, at some point in the not-too-distant future, take up the questions mentioned above. I think that we should, and must, pose clear questions to candidate Obama about what he’ll do regarding Keystone XL if re-elected. I think that we should demand a clear answer to that question. And I think we should adopt this stance: that a vote for Obama will be conditioned on getting a promise from him, before the election, to say ‘NO’ to the pipeline when the time comes to make the decision.

    Joe, I’m being persistent — you might even call it pushy — on this matter because of its immense importance and potentially actionable nature.

    Cheers for now,


  43. dbmetzger says:

    From the CBC
    US Delays Keystone XL Pipeline
    The US State Department says it wants to find a different route for a controversial oil pipeline, delaying the Keystone XL project, CBC’s Margo McDiarmid reports.

  44. Jeff Huggins says:


    The question is not whether Obama “listened”. Instead, it’s what he will DO, and what we can DO to place the most pressure on him to DO what needs to be done, including using all the leverage at our disposal. This most recent action on Obama’s part is a mere “move”. After all, can you tell me, today, that he won’t approve Keystone XL? No, you can’t.

    Also, the question is not whether we have a parliamentary system, and the matter is certainly not one of mere math. Instead, one of the questions is more like this: Will we ultimately need to develop and grow, and make successful, a third party in order to get the government to face and address climate change SUFFICIENTLY — in order to get ahead of the ball and address the problem RESPONSIBLY? And, will it be necessary to do so (even if the third party ultimately doesn’t win) in order to prompt the Dems to get serious, rather than allowing the Dems to think that we have nowhere else to go with our votes, as they do today? (Consider my earlier comment, under other posts, regarding what Lawrence O’Donnell has said quite clearly.) And, if the only or best way to get something sufficient done, or to prompt the existing party to do so, is to grow a third party, then would it not be better to do that sooner rather than later? How long do we ride on a train that is not going SUFFICIENTLY in the right direction? How long will we effectively tie ourselves to the status quo based on the “let’s vote for the lesser of two evils” philosophy? Really. Seriously. After all, sadly, the Dem politicians are just as much part of the status quo as anyone or anything else; and indeed the philosophy of “vote for the lesser of two evils” is ITSELF part of the status quo, and is perhaps the largest enabler of the status quo.

    In any case, those are my present thoughts.

    Be Well,


  45. Jay Alt says:

    Great work Bill.
    The Refiners’ Solution? Contract to build a different pipeline.

    Enbridge’s Pipeline Plan May Gain on New Delays to Keystone XL

    Obama Administration made a political move.
    Game is just beginning.
    Not the time to say –

    “Obama gets it”

    Because he doesn’t.

  46. Brooks Bridges says:

    If there is no viable third party candidate by election day my math holds.

    Nader was, for instance, not a viable candidate by any definition.

    To say the odds are long that one will appear is putting it mildly.

    There were around 1,500 at the first Tar Sands Rally, 12,000 at the second. It started to feel like something was really happening. We need to go up by a factor of 10 or 100 and Obama will do what we want.

    One of the most popular chants at the rally was:

    “This is what democracy looks like!”

    It’s not up to Obama Jeff. It’s up to you and me. And a million more.

  47. Jeff Huggins says:

    May We Be Clear On One Thing, Please? (another inconvenient truth)

    There has been much hoopla about the Obama Administration’s recent decision to postpone its decision regarding Keystone XL until after the election.

    As I’ve suggested elsewhere, this is no real ‘win’ against the pipeline itself. After all, a real move against the pipeline, on Obama’s part, would involve, quite simply, a decision to not approve it – which is a choice that’s the President’s to make. But instead of saying ‘NO’ to Keystone XL, President Obama has simply made a political move, and kicked the can down the road.

    Be that as it may (and for present purposes, it’s not necessary that you agree with that assessment), for practical purposes it should be sufficient to realize this:

    It is standard practice, and justified, and understandable, that voters want to know what candidates will do on the full range of important issues, if elected. Consider:

    Voters want to know what candidates will do regarding wars: “Will you, if elected, pull us out of the war in (name the place)? If so, by when? If not, why not?”

    Voters want to know what candidates will do regarding the deficit and taxes: “Will you, if elected, raise taxes on the rich? If not, why not? If so, how much? Overall, what is the tax plan you’ll propose, if elected? Be specific.”

    Voters want to know where candidates stand on such things as whether “corporations are people”, a constitutional amendment to limit the rights of corporations, campaign finance reform, and related matters. Voters are right to want to understand the candidates’ positions on such issues.

    I could go on, of course, to list virtually every single important issue under the stars. Voters are right to want to understand each candidate’s specific position on such issues – to want to know what each candidate would do, regarding these issues, if elected. Specifics, please! Not interested in vagueness and ill-defined platitudes! Don’t bait me with a promise of “hope”, please: instead, tell me specifically what you will do, if elected. Don’t treat me like an idiot, please: instead, just tell me what you’ll do, on these vital issues, so I can be an informed voter and make an informed choice.

    The point is especially valid in the case of a President running for re-election. After all, President Obama has had three years to understand climate change, our energy issues, and also, specifically, the Keystone XL matter.

    My point? What’s my point? It’s this: We should ask about, and demand to know, what President Obama WILL DO, if re-elected, in the case of Keystone XL:

    “Candidate Obama: Will you approve Keystone XL, or not approve it, if reelected? It’s a simple question. Be crystal clear in your answer. You understand what ‘crystal clear’ means, don’t you, Mr, President? Well then, be crystal clear. You’ve had three years to understand climate change. Indeed, you made promises to us four years ago having to do with climate change and putting the U.S. on the right path, moving to end our addiction to fossil fuels. You participated in Copenhagen. You have a Nobel Prize-winner as your Secretary of Energy. You know what the scientists have said about climate change, and about the tar sands, and about Keystone XL. You’ve had three years. You aren’t running for a first election. You’re running for reelection. And you have campaigned on the bases of honesty, of change, and of transparency. So, Mr. President, voters who are considering whether to vote for you again, or for the first time, are right in wanting to understand precisely what you will do, regarding Keystone XL, if they vote for you and you’re reelected. So again, Mr. President, and candidate Obama, will you approve Keystone XL, or not approve it, if reelected?”

    This is a fair, warranted, reasonable, and necessary question. A fair, warranted, reasonable, and necessary request. A fair, warranted, reasonable, and necessary demand. Voters naturally, necessarily, and understandably, want to know what candidates will do, if elected, on the full variety of issues. The matter of Keystone XL is no different. There is no justifiable need, or reason, to be secretive or vague. The Keystone XL matter is not one of national defense, in which case (although rarely) there might be a justifiable reason to not announce “plans” fully in advance.

    The reality of this point places the ball back in OUR COURT, that is, in the court of people concerned about climate change, in the court of environmentalists, in the court of so-called ‘Climate Hawks’, in the court of the think-tanks and blogs. The Obama Administration’s recent MOVE – delaying the decision until after the election – does not change or undermine, even one iota, the rightful, understandable, responsible, and necessary need of voters to understand what candidate Obama will do, if reelected, regarding Keystone XL. Period. Let’s face it. Will we please?

    So the question remains: Will we put the question to him? Will we expect an answer? Will we demand an answer? Will we explain why our demand for an answer is warranted, understandable, responsible, democratic, justified, and necessary under the circumstances?

    Or instead, will we punt, just like he has done? Will we knowingly allow ourselves to be fooled or to be highly subject to being fooled? Will we avoid what may seem, to some of us, an inconvenient question? Will we try to avoid an inconvenient truth, which is this: Obama’s recent move didn’t address the problem, and now the ball is back in our court to consider what to do.

    Consider, also, this: The argument to NOT pose these questions to candidate Obama, and to not demand and expect a clear answer, cannot be supported except by taking a dramatically condescending attitude toward democracy and toward “the people”, and by rejecting the very values and ideals we say we have. In other words, someone might say this: “Jeff, posing the clear question to Obama, and demanding a clear answer, may be understandable and warranted, but it may also place his reelection at risk. After all, if he gives a clear answer, it will either upset environmentalists and citizens concerned about climate change, or it will upset some folks in the labor movement, and it will also allow Republicans to criticize the President, as they always do no matter what he does. So best not to ask Obama to be clear. Best to let him get away with vagueness, a vagueness that allows us to believe what we’d like to believe, and punts the ball down the road.”

    Well – and I hope people can see this – such a stance is deeply problematic and odd. It demeans democracy. It avoids questions and issues. It falls short of transparency. It plays games. It avoids “inconvenience” only to place us in a position in which we’re likely to be fooled again. Indeed, it involves us in our own foolishness.

    Thus there is no need to quibble about whether the delay represents a win or not. There is no need to speculate. The movement deserves a one-night party, a celebration, NOT because of the Administration’s delay, but instead because the movement is trying, and has been active, and deserves to congratulate itself on being active and doing something. On the other hand, we will fall flat going forward, and NOT deserve to congratulate ourselves, if we fail to see that posing the questions I’ve raised above to President Obama is a warranted, vital, reasonable, and necessary next step, and an urgent one.

    The President’s recent decision to postpone the decision was a MOVE, as in a chess game, and was nowhere near a win against the pipeline. The ball is back in our court. Will we ask the necessary questions? What will CP do? What will do? What will the environmental organizations do?

    And, can you imagine this: Can you imagine posing questions such as “What would you do, if elected, regarding Keystone XL?” to the Republican candidates, as we should, and to the third-party candidates, as we should, but NOT to candidate Obama? Wouldn’t that be nonsensical! Or, should we not pose the question to any candidates because we don’t want to pose it to Obama? Wow! So much for any belief in democracy! So much for any respect for the American people! So much for genuine “progress” – or is “progress” achieved by avoiding tough questions and by enabling foolishness, including our own?

    Enough said. Joe?

    Be Well,


  48. Jeff Huggins says:

    Brooks, I don’t agree with you (respectfully), and your points don’t address mine squarely. I agree with you on one point — that it’s up to you and me — but I think you draw the (very) wrong conclusion from that point, because you unnecessarily handcuff yourself by limiting options and looking at the big-broad picture far too narrowly. It is by adhering to the “we must vote for the lesser-of-two-evils choice, and perpetually so, because there are no other choices” that you DO take the choice OUT of our hands and PUT IT into the hands of Obama and the present status quo. Can you not see that? If not, then you aren’t really looking at the big picture, and broadly, or you’re taking far too much of a super-short-term approach. You are not increasing your leverage; you’re diminishing it. Consider the quote from Lawrence O’Donnell that I’ve used in recent comments.

    In any case, I can’t continue this particular debate, for lack of time. On a practical note — on a note that doesn’t involve whether you agree or disagree with this assessment — I’ve posted a comment that should appear below, as a new comment, once it clears moderation. It has to do with a pivotal “next step” that is valid and necessary no matter what one thinks about the recent move on the Administration’s part to delay its decision. So, for practical purposes, if you like, please consider the points I make in that comment, which should appear at the end of the list, later.

    Be Well,


  49. Some European says:

    Congratulations to the protesters, to Bill McKibben and everybody involved!
    However, I agree with some commenters: I see this as very bad news. The second worst thing that could happen apart from approval: the decision is passed on to president Perry.
    I am utterly disgusted by Obama and will demand the cancellation of his Nobel Prize.

  50. John Hartz says:

    Related reading:

    “Capitalism vs. the Climate”, Naomi Klein, The Nation, Nov 8, 2011

    Klein’s article is one of the best-written explanations of the “politics” of climate change that I have ever read.

    I highly recommend that Joe discuss it in a future blog.

  51. Chuckarama says:

    Obama punts, again…

    What’s wrong with this guy? Why can’t he make real decisions? Trying to take my emotions out of it, my objective analysis is he’s pinned in on this one right now. On one side he has unions and other laborers that would like to get at those very specialized construction jobs and the environmental movement on the other side of it. And in an election year, he needs votes from both of them. So to me it looks like he’s too scared to alienate either. So does he believe in anything, or just in re-election? Eventually he’s going to have to come down on one side or the other and offend one group of his voters or the other, he just doesn’t have the moxie to do it right now. Maybe we’ll see who he favors later? What if the Republicans take the Executive Office. Is it their fault then, when the pipeline inevitably gets built under them, or does President Obama own it?

    Remember this moment, and who owns it, when the time comes.

  52. Steve Bloom says:

    Moving the lobbying staffs out of the way is easier said than done, Richard.

  53. Steve Bloom says:

    Perry? Maybe he’ll just forget all about it. :)

  54. Roger Shamel says:

    A great battle won, but…looking at the physics, the KKL is a drop in the bucket. We’re still headed for a freaking cliff.

    What next? climate activists should use all their might, and all their new-found cooperative skills, to get Obama to give a Senator Whitehouse-like speech from the White House (

    Why? Because 99% of the 99% will simply not accept the fact that climate change impacts are going to be serious as long as their US president isn’t even talking about it.

    And, in a ‘democracy’ we won’t be able to get broad political support for needed actions, such as a carbon tax, until a large number of citizens understand the stakes.

    Finally, we don’t have time for the slow rate of citizen education that’s taking place now. We need need a Pearl Harbor-type talk, from our US president, while we still have time to turn this burning ship around.

  55. Roger Shamel says:

    With all due respect for this week’s huge victory, for our own good, let’s keep things in perspective. For all its size, canceling the KXL hardly moves the climate change dial.

    Denial is common when an issue is invisible, ugly, and threat to our lifestyle–a perfect fit with climate change. According to my estimates, only about 0.01% of US citizens have gotten far enough beyond this denial to be able to even vaguely see what’s coming.

    It has taken several decades of research, writing and publicity to achieve this low level of recognition in the United States.

    Jim Hansen, and others, have indicated that we are very close to numerous invisible (to most) climate tipping points, and that we may only have a few years (if that) to make large shifts in our global energy policies.

    Question: How can we pull 1,000 times more Americans out of denial quickly, in order to get to the 10% understanding level that may allow even that minority, with some smart leverage, to demand the energy policies that will preserve a livable climate for humans?

    We don’t have enough money to buy the ads that would allow us to do this. Therefore, IMHO, our only hope is for all climate-concerned groups to focus their attention on getting President Obama to go on prime-time TV to give the address of his life about the true situation with the climate: rapid climate change is happening, it is caused by our burning of fossil fuels, it will have life-changing impacts, and it represents the opportunity of a lifetime for American jobs, American prosperity, and American leadership.

    Let’s face it: Americans are simply not going to believe that we have a serious problem on our hands, as long as our leader doesn’t seem to think it’s an important issue. Obama’s relative silence is all that most Americans need to continue their denial.

    So, yes, we should enjoy our pipedream victory over the weekend, but on Monday morning we need to start focusing on the real prize: Getting Obama to speak out.

  56. Emil M. says:

    Obama wants to have his cake, and eat it too. In order to please the left he delays the pipeline. However, if he gets re-elected (which I assume will not happen) he allows the pipeline to be built after all, and thus pleasing the right as well.

  57. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Mulp, in my opinion you are being too hard on the public. Sure, some are Dunning-Krugerites too dumb to understand just how stupid and brainwashed they are, and we ought to pity them as much as oppose them, for they know not what they do. However many, many, people know the truth, but the system offers no avenue to redress any of our looming disasters. It is not a ‘democracy’ and can never be so in a capitalist society. In capitalist polities all power devolves to the money power, which purchases politicians wholesale by ‘contributions’, and which owns and controls the brainwashing mechanism of the MSM in its entirety. The real culprits are the parasitic elites.

  58. MarkfromLexington says:

    Excellent comments. I especially liked the comment about focusing on a concrete winnable demand.

  59. Victory over adversity does, for the moment, feel good but I will not vote for Obama until and unless he makes clear his intentions re Tar Sands exploitation. I agree with Jeff’s implication (comment 17.) that a vote for the best of the worst is to compromise our cause. That I will not do. So, the ball’s now clearly in the President’s court.

  60. Artful Dodger says:

    Do you want to see tarsands oil stay in the ground? Here is the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Route Map from Alberta through British Columbia, and then via Ocean Terminal to China and ports East: