Climate

In Huge Win For Environmentalists, Obama Rejects The Keystone XL Pipeline

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, announce he's rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline because he does not believe it serves the national interest, Friday Nov. 6, 2015, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsuvais)

People have marched and chanted, zip tied themselves to the White House fence, gotten arrested and carried a huge inflatable pipeline through the streets of D.C. They’ve sued, held vigils, and rode door-to-door on horseback, all in opposition to a massive tar sands pipeline.

Now, the six-year fight over that pipeline is finally coming to an end.

President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline Friday morning after a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama said Friday that the State Department, in its final Environmental Impact Statement, found that the pipeline would not be in the country’s national interest. “I agree with that decision,” he said.

Obama discussed three State Department findings on the pipeline Friday. The pipeline, Obama said, would not “make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy.”

“If Congress is serious about wanting to create jobs, this was not the way to do it,” Obama said. Instead, Congress should pass a “bipartisan infrastructure” that would create more jobs than Keystone XL would, the president said. If approved, the pipeline was projected to create only around 35 permanent jobs.

The pipeline also wouldn’t lower gas prices, the president said. And “shipping dirtier crude oil into our county would not increase America’s energy security,” he said.

“What has increased America’s energy security is our strategy over the past several years to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world,” he said.

The country must transition to a clean energy economy — something it’s already succeeding at doing, Obama continued. America also needs to continue to be a leader in climate action — and approving the pipeline would have “undermined” that leadership.

“The time to act is now. Not later, not someday, right here, right now,” Obama said.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the State Department also found the following when it reviewed the pipeline proposal: its construction “raises a range of concerns about the impact on local communities, water supplies, and cultural heritage sites,” and it would “facilitate transportation into our country of a particularly dirty source of fuel.”

“The critical factor in my determination was this: moving forward with this project would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combating climate change,” Kerry said in a statement. “I am also convinced that public arguments for and against the pipeline have, to some extent, been overstated. Our analysis makes it clear that the Keystone XL pipeline would not be the economic driver it is heralded to be.”

The State Department’s final EIS was the last step in the Keystone XL process — Obama had been waiting on the agency to release the report before he made a decision on the pipeline. The State Department’s final report took into account millions of comments from Americans.

“Decades of science prove beyond any reasonable doubt that human activity is a direct cause of the rising seas, increasing temperatures, and intensifying storms threatening our planet – and the window of opportunity for action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change is closing quickly. I have seen the world try and fail to address this threat for decades,” Kerry said. “Today, the need for American leadership to combat climate change has never been greater, and we must answer the call. The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves. Denying the Keystone XL pipeline is one of those tough choices – but it is the right decision, for America and the world.”

The announcement comes during a week full of news for the controversial tar sands pipeline. TransCanada, the company in charge of the pipeline, asked the State Department Monday to suspend the review process for the pipeline while its route was evaluated in Nebraska. The State Department rejected that request, which was largely seen as an effort to push the pipeline decision on to a potentially less climate-friendly administration, later in the week.

“This is a big win. President Obama’s decision to reject Keystone XL because of its impact on the climate is nothing short of historic — and sets an important precedent that should send shockwaves through the fossil fuel industry,” 350.org Executive Director May Boeve said in a statement.

Keystone XL has become a rallying point for environmentalists. The pipeline would have carried crude oil from the tar sands region of Alberta — a type of oil that’s heavily carbon-intensive. If constructed, the oil the pipeline would have carried would have been responsible for 181 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year. — more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants. The carbon-intensity of the fuel was one of the main reasons environmentalists called on the president to reject the pipeline: America, if it’s looking for energy independence, shouldn’t rely on dirty oil from Canada, but instead should invest in renewables, they said.

Obama’s rejection of the pipeline also helps solidify his climate legacy. The president has made acting on climate a major part of his second term, and many environmentalists said that the approval of the pipeline would have undermined the work the administration has done so far on climate.

“Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is a victory for the planet, for the health and well-being of the communities along the pipeline route, and for future generations to come,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement. “It also demonstrates the power of the millions of people who raised their voices in opposition to the pipeline, and of the growing movement to end our dependence on dirty fossil fuels. Now, instead of building a pipeline that cuts our country in two, we are free to invest in clean energy that creates jobs and brings our country together.”

UPDATE NOV 6, 2015 6:35 PM

A previous version of this story listed Michael Brune as the executive director of 350.org. He is the executive director of the Sierra Club. ThinkProgress regrets the error.

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