Breaking: Obama Denies Keystone XL Permit, But Allows TransCanada to Reapply With Alternate Pipeline Route


The denial of the Keystone XL route is official. The President issued this statement today:

Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment.  As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied.  And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

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.  I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil.  Under my Administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down.  In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security –including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico – even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas.  And we will do so in a way that benefits American workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the American people and the environment.

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Groups opposed to tar sands are universally supporting the decision, while Keystone supporters are universally denouncing the denial. From Dan Weiss at the Center for American Progress:

President Barack Obama’s denial of the Keystone XL pipeline permit recognizes that Canadian tar sands oil—bringing pollution but relatively few American jobs while exporting the oil to China and other countries—is not the future of American energy. His insistence on knowing the impact before the pipeline is approved is the safest decision to protect Americans along its route by ensuring the pipeline won’t pollute their air and water before it’s reviewed by those with the expertise to conduct such an assessment without bias—not the foreign oil companies or their lobbyists who stand to profit. It is like getting medical tests and a second opinion before deciding on the appropriate treatment, from a doctor and not a drug company.

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Bill McKibben, founder of responds to the news that the State Department will reject the Keystone XL pipeline later today.

Assuming that what we’re hearing is true, this isn’t just the right call, it’s the brave call. The knock on Barack Obama from many quarters has been that he’s too conciliatory. But here, in the face of a naked political threat from Big Oil to exact ‘huge political consequences,’ he’s stood up strong. This is a victory for Americans who testified in record numbers, and who demanded that science get the hearing usually reserved for big money.

We’re well aware that the fossil fuel lobby won’t give up easily. They have control of Congress. But as the year goes on, we’ll try to break some of that hammerlock, both so that environmental review can go forward, and so that we can stop wasting taxpayer money on subsidies and handouts to the industry. The action starts mid-day Tuesday on Capitol Hill, when 500 referees will blow the whistle on Big Oil’s attempts to corrupt the Congress.

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After co-writing a breaking story early this afternoon on the Keystone XL decision, Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin tweeted:

From the Washington Post Story:

Some political observers said that the effort by Congress to pressure the president into making a quick decision might have backfired. Last week, John Engler, former Michigan governor who is now head of the Business Roundtable, said “no chief executive likes to be painted into a corner by anybody, whether another nation or a legislative body. There are a couple of ways to react and one of them is a negative way.” Engler and the Business Roundtable support the pipeline project.

Obama can say that the GOP forced his hand, requiring him to make a decision on the original pipeline route, which too many people, including those in Nebraska, objected to.  Obama can also say that the GOP required a decision before he could go through the rigorous process needed to develop a new pipeline route and do the environmental impact analysis of it.

This was Obama’s widely expected fudge.  And if you like fudge, it’s very tasty.  But is it really good for you?

With the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, The Oil Goes to China, the Permanent Jobs Go to Canada, We Get the Spills, and the World Gets Warmer.  Is the decision really that hard?

31 Responses to Breaking: Obama Denies Keystone XL Permit, But Allows TransCanada to Reapply With Alternate Pipeline Route

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Fudge taste much better than crow.

  2. Jeff H says:


    By this definition of fudge — or one very much like it — a great number of people in the movement, Bill McKibben, many of the environmental organizations, and CP/Joe themselves are fudge-likers. Just review all the posts, comments, congratulations, and so forth from a few months ago, when Obama decided to delay his decision until after the election in the first place.

    I agree that this is a “fudge” decision — and I’m very curious about what folks will say about it, if it is in fact his decision. (It’s a bit too premature to think so, given that no official announcement has been made, or explanation given.)

    But too many of us keep liking, accepting, enabling, and even celebrating fudge.

    “But is it really good for you?”, as Joe puts it. Indeed, that’s the question.

    I would like to know:

    Will President Obama discuss climate change, seriously, in his upcoming State of the Union Address?

    Will CAP urge him, hard, to do so?

    Will CP do a post (please) addressed specifically to President Obama and to his speech-writer(s), urging him to discuss climate change in his State of the Union Address and laying out the compelling case of why he SHOULD? That’s a post I’d love to see. It’s necessary — and might even be productive.

    We’ve eaten enough fudge for last year and for all of this year, already. Let’s not ask for more of it, enable more of it, celebrate more of it, or be willing to accept more of it.



  3. With a Congressionally-interrupted NEPA process, it might be the only option legally available.

  4. Leif says:

    ‎”We the people” are on a roll, now on to investigate the bank failure and attach some blame if some culpability is found. Sign up, Stand up, Speak up. We can do this…We have the Force, all it takes is to show you care. Get in someones face. Join the fray. Now that Corporations are “People” it is up to the rest of us to teach them how how to play nice with others. You think?

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    As far as I can tell, this is simply Obama’s way of doing what he wanted to do, which is to postpone approval of Keystone XL (whether the original route or a different one) until after the election, so as not to further alienate environmentalists until after the election, when he no longer needs their votes.

    With all due respect to Bill McKibben, I don’t see how that’s a “brave call”.

  6. Jeff H says:

    The Decision, The Explanation, The Messaging, The State of the Union Address — and the celebration?

    Hhhhmmm. I’ve just seen the update: Bill McKibben’s response to the news. A few thoughts …

    Of course, of course, this decision on Obama’s part is better than giving Keystone XL approval. Much better. That’s true. But, the way it has been described, the present decision is not much more than kicking the can down the road, again. So, how to tell the difference?

    Fortunately, in the present case, there is (or will be, soon) a way to tell the difference. We need to hear how President Obama explains this decision, how he defends it, how much emphasis he places on the “re-apply” option, how much he places the blame on the fact that more time was needed to evaluate the alternative route, and so forth. And we need to see whether President Obama discusses climate change, and the need to face it, in his State of the Union Address.

    Why? Because, of course, the Keystone XL decision is vitally important, but the problem of climate change is much, much larger than Keystone XL, and what Obama actually says (or doesn’t say) will tell us a great deal; AND it will place another concrete block down in his overall messaging strategy.

    Put another way, the decision to “say no now, but to point to the notion that the company can reapply with a new route” says hardly anything, by itself. It is, as Joe put it (or implied), a “fudge”. So, in this case at least, the explanation and corresponding “messaging” WILL matter and WILL tell us a lot.

    I would enjoy seeing an assessment, on Bill’s part and on Joe’s part, AFTER we hear the explanation from Obama, the comments from the State Department, and so forth, and AFTER we see whether Obama discusses climate change in the State of the Union Address. At that point we can do the most informed and honest assessment of what has actually taken place — something to celebrate, or a big fat piece of fudge?

    To be clear, the fact that he didn’t say ‘yes’ — or hasn’t yet — is vital and important. But the movement has to move from being on the defensive, constantly, to being on the offensive and getting something much more positive done. We are getting into the habit of celebrating the fact that we are slowly stopping things from happening that would otherwise cause emissions to get even much worse than they are now. And even on those matters, we are left with “fudge” and fudge-like messaging on the part of our so-called leaders. But we can’t just sit around while we slowly reduce the rate of emissions increases, now can we? The science and situation call for steep emissions reductions, and soon. Can anyone tell me that Obama’s fudge-like decisions, lack of focus on the problem, almost nonexistent emphasis on climate change in his public speeches, and so forth are setting a solid and responsible stage for the emissions REDUCTIONS we need?

    Let’s hear what President Obama has to say, and then determine if THAT is anything to truly celebrate.

    Be Well,


  7. Robert Nagle says:

    IBID to what Jeff says, but I’ll add: Obama needs to be laying the groundwork for climate change legislation in 2012 election, or the Senate/Congress won’t go along with him….. I could easily see Obama’s pushing clean energy as the number one issue of the year — and I hate to say it, but the Solyndra nonsense will be hard propaganda to combat.

  8. john tucker says:

    Another total failure from a climate perspective (and an environmental one too realistically.)

    No matter what failure probably was the inevitable outcome. The pipeline was an accessory after the fact, shutting down the environmental crime scene that produced the oil and making it clear the use of the oil itself was a unethical option would have been a better areas of focus.

  9. Sasparilla says:

    So well put Jeff.

    Just to suggest another analogy for your last paragraph…We have to stop celebrating the fact that we’re not retreating as fast as we were before…

    It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out politically for the election.

  10. Maybe the fact that the oil wasn’t for the USA helped a wee bit:

    “TransCanada recently refused to support a requirement that oil from Keystone XL be dedicated for use in the United States in a recent Congressional hearing.26 In December 2011, Representative Edward Markey asked TransCanada’s President, Alex Pourbaix, to support a condition that would require the oil on Keystone XL to be used in the United States. Mr. Pourbaix refused, saying that such a requirement would cause refineries to back out of their contracts.”

    LOL. One thing this pipeline fight has brought to light is the allegiances of the tar sands companies. Hint: Not to Canada or USA.

  11. This will put more pressure on the equally huge proposed Enbridge pipeline across BC to feed raw crude to China for refining and burning.

    Again the big oil companies seem to be more interested in shipping “Canadian” [sic] oil to China than to Canadians. Seems Canada still imports over half its oil…the same percentage they did pre-tarsands. In fact they import it from what Prime Minister Harper says are “unethical” places like Saudi Arabia.

    So a reporter asked Harper why he is pushing to send the best remaining “Canadian” [sic] oil to China instead of using it to ensure Canadian oil security. Harper said it was indeed odd that Canadians weren’t getting the tarsands oil but “it is fundamentally a market-based decision. We don’t dictate pipelines go here or there.”

    The government of Alberta licensed their carbon resources to global oil corporations, now 40% foreign controlled, without getting any commitment to supply Canadians with that oil.


  12. for people saying this was a fudge, how exactly was the president or anyone else supposed to stop them from reapplying for a permit?
    few enough wins in this business without the endless cynicism. today is a day when the oil industry is scowling

  13. Joan Savage says:

    This is not ‘fudge,’ it’s more like a ‘diet delite’ serving of something or other.
    The situation has been slipping off message, it’s moving away from the core “game changer” carbon emissions and back to adherence to NEPA (which doesn’t strongly evaluate climate change effects). The presidential decision is also likely comfort to folks in the Sand Hills of the politically “red” state of Nebraska. Good, but not deeply satisfying.

    I’m still mulling over what the pipeline planners have/had been expecting to do with their products from Alberta dilbit that would be in excess of internal US markets. Refineries along the way near Tulsa, OK and more so at endpoints in Houston and Port Arthur, TX are all ports for shipping as we know.

    An end-use possibility I haven’t seen discussed is providing a supply of “bunker” fuel for said shipping.

    Tankers head out of New Orleans and Texas to go fetch high quality crude from foreign sources in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela. The multimodal shipping that comes into San Diego and Santa Barbara would be connected via pipelines across the southwest to Texas. The multimodal shipping that comes from Asia through the Panama Canal would fuel up somewhere before heading back out.
    Just wondering!

  14. Jeff H says:

    That’s a great way to put it, Sasparilla, and for more than one reason. Because although we are not retreating as fast as we were before, our underlying philosophy/thinking is still very much retreat-like in nature. Sometimes we push ourselves into action, but we haven’t rid ourselves of the underlying “thinking” that ultimately adapts itself to “progress” that is far too slow, and ultimately accommodates and enables inaction. I wonder, sometimes, whether the movement’s leaders actually see and realize this?

    In any case, thanks for the comment. Cheers, Jeff

  15. Joan Savage says:

    Wood Mackenzie prepared a report for the Alberta Department of Energy, “A Netback Impact Analysis of West Coast Export Capacity” (December 2011), that includes a map of all anticipated export markets for Alberta crude, including the major pipelines in the US. I haven’t mined the report for all the implications, but two points have popped out 1) increasing global demand for heavy crude and 2) consideration of a separate pipeline to bring in imported diluent, used to thin the dilbit enough to make it move through a pipeline.

  16. MarkfromLexington says:

    “TransCanada remains fully committed to the construction of Keystone XL,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Plans are already underway on a number of fronts to largely maintain the construction schedule of the project.”

  17. Jeff H says:

    A Question (or two) for Joe, Dan Weiss, and Bill McKibben

    Gentlemen, now that you’ve read President Obama’s statement and explanation, what do you think?

    People talk about messaging: What does the President actually SAY in his statement, and what does that do for (or to) the movement to clearly communicate to the public, to set the stage for addressing climate change, and so forth?

    This represents not “bravery”. It represents an utter lack of leadership.

    Indeed, I couldn’t have written a weaker statement — a more fudged statement — if I had tried hard to do so.

    Joe, President Obama doesn’t need a book about successful rhetoric. Instead, he needs a book about ethics, responsibility, real leadership, and will. Do you disagree?

    I am going to start looking into the Green Party candidate. I’ve had it with President Obama, sorry to say. I gave him my vote last time, and in my view, he’s letting us down. I DO understand that he has said ‘no’, for now, to Keystone XL — or at least to this particular route of KXL — but listen to how he’s explaining it, and what he says he’ll do. He’s lost my support. Period.

    That said, I would be interested — very interested — in an honest, accurate, sensible, line-by-line interpretation of and commentary on the President’s statement. What is your assessment, Joe?


  18. Brooks Bridges says:

    Last night I watched “Iron Jawed Angels”, primarily about Alice Paul, who was very much a Martin Luther King of the suffrage movement. I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone looking for an example of real dedication, courage and sacrifice in accomplishing political change. She and her companions staged daily protests in front of the white house through all seasons, endured physical abuse, illegal arrest and imprisonment, many brutal forced feedings (they went on hunger strikes in prison). They used Wilson’s own words about democracy against him and in the end, shamed him into proposing an amendment to the constitution. If you prefer books, there is a highly rated one called
    A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot by Mary Walton

    They were advocating to be allowed to vote. We are supposed to advocating for preventing what could well be the end of civilization as we know it, possibly the end of human life, or at the least, a hell-like, barely survivable world. I’m not feeling comfortable with the comparison.

    “What did you do to prevent my hellish future dad/mom/grandmom/granddad?”

  19. Kim Hunter says:

    These pipelines are the pipe dream of a few war / oil profiteers. A wise man said “we didn’t evolve out the stone age because we ran out of stones.”
    These “deals” will be the death of all that held dear in Canada. More death of our First Nations from living in proximity of the tarsands, more human rights and liberties being denied for private profits will no longer be tolerated. Canada has made their voices clear 80% don’t want these pipelines.

  20. prokaryotes says:

    Republicans fume as Keystone oil pipeline rejected

    I guess as always, David Koch is busy now ringing up his bitches to force them to go on the street and stage the “opposition”. Then they make some photos and claim they had 10.000 people protesting, ROFL!

  21. Jake says:

    I’m surprised. I really thought he’d cave this round.

  22. Jeff H says:

    Bill, I applaud your efforts, but I think the strategy could be better, and your present comment confuses me. First of all, as one of the people who think this approach on the President’s part is a big “fudge” of sorts (a word that can mean different things in this instance, of course, and one that I’m applying here because Joe introduced it in the post), I did not say anything about the fact that the company can reapply, complain about that reality, or assume that there was anything that President Obama could do about that. That’s not the point. Have you seen the President’s statement on this, the reasoning he gave? THAT’s the problem, and it’s a Big One. Secondly, I’m not cynical — I’m not giving up, or resigned to failure, or doubtful of anything and everything that could be done. Quite the opposite. I think that there ARE things that could be done better, and that should be done better, and I think we should be more accurate and real in our assessments. In my view, accurate assessments help inform better and more effective strategies. The best I can do (in this short comment), to point you to the reason I’m disappointed in Obama, including today, is to refer you to his own statement on the matter. If you think THAT statement, and that point of view and approach on Obama’s part, are what’s needed to educate the public, speak clearly and bravely to the public, and begin setting the stage for much more effective action to address climate change, you must be reading a different statement than the one I’m reading.

    There is also the (very big) question of trust and keeping promises. You seem to be coming at this from the standpoint of some sort of “unshakable trust and faith” in the President. Perhaps you’ve met him, or perhaps he’s looked you in the eyes and given you an oath? I, on the other hand, am a member of the general public, and I remember what he said he’d do — what he promised — last time around, when I voted for him. Now I see him try (for as long as he can) to put off important decisions, make excuses when he ultimately has to make them, avoid using the bully pulpit, and make mush-like statements like the one he made today. I don’t consider that it’s MY job to trust HIM no matter what he does. Instead, I consider that it’s HIS job to be a real leader, to educate the public, to be honest and clear with the public, to go on the offensive, to live up to his promises, and to get the job done. May I ask, what is your analysis of his actual statement, line by line, in relation to what he SHOULD be saying to the public at this point, nearly three years into his term as President? Why do you think I or we should be happy with such mush? What, in that statement, indicates to you that we can TRUST that President Obama will actually LEAD in a next term? Why should I vote for him again — other than for the painfully fatalistic reason that “well, the Repubs would be much worse”?

    Perhaps on a more actionable basis, now that the President has said ‘no’ (for now), what will the movement be doing to FORCE the topic of climate change into the dialogue and to demand that Obama be clear on what he will do — what he’ll promise — if we elect him again? Because if he isn’t crystal clear, and if he doesn’t make big concrete promises that we have reason to believe, I won’t be able to vote for him again. To me, this isn’t cynicism: instead, it’s a good and necessary question, it’s a demand for clarity, and it’s a request for necessary action.

    Sorry to be a grouch. I simply can’t read that statement on Obama’s part and be “happy”. We should be setting our aims much, much higher.

    Thanks for your great and hard work, though,


  23. prokaryotes says:

    Exactly. I think that this decision is the best way of dealing with the situation, in the short term.

  24. prokaryotes says:

    Robert Redford: President Obama Stands Up to Big Oil

    Let’s face it: Big Oil is used to getting its way. But not today… and we have President Obama to thank for standing up to them in spite of the political risk.

  25. prokaryotes says:

    Jeff, let’s face it, you are always negative and besides Obama did not permit the pipeline, you still keeping your arguments the same way.

    I doubt you would go on the street to protest yourself. Even doubt your motives.

  26. prokaryotes says:

    “This represents not “bravery”. It represents an utter lack of leadership. ”

    Nice try Big Oil.

  27. Jeff H says:

    prokaryotes, all I ask is that you read President Obama’s actual statement. Indeed, the most quoted part of it in the international press (e.g., BBC), and in many other articles I’ve seen, is President Obama’s (brave and clear?) statement that his announcement is not a judgment of the project on its merits, but rather a necessary action because of the time=frame put upon the process. Not enough time to make an assessment. THAT is how Obama is explaining it, quite clearly. Is that bravery, and is that a clear message? Let me know, please, if you think it is.

  28. prokaryotes says:

    This are the fine arts of politic.

    You always stated that your main concern is that Obama denies permit. Now he has and you still raise a tone which is not appropriate when looking at the progress. Yes, it is not 100% but nevertheless, a bold step!

  29. Timeslayer says:

    I support President Obama and will surely volunteer my time this year to help re-elect him. No doubt about that. But I also think that the he does not speak clearly enough about the challenge of climate change, considering that mitigating it is an urgent GLOBAL imperative.

    Jeff’s right that his explanation of the Keystone denial was just more of the same. During the 2008 campaign he pledged to “always let the American people know where he stands” on any issue. I think that he has not done that regarding climate change, so far. He’s got great science and energy advisers, so I think he does know what we’re facing. But he doesn’t convey that awareness, even when he speaks about climate change. Maybe this is a tactical political decision, but I admit that I would feel better knowing that he is one of us, i.e., a sane person who understands that we’re all in very big trouble.


  30. Jeff H says:

    prokaryotes, politics is not (merely or even mainly) about rhetoric: it should be about getting important stuff done. The task is to face and address climate change, asap, not to limp around, always on the defensive, delaying decisions whenever possible, using muddy logic and making excuses when decisions must be made, and so forth. The word ‘leadership’ has a meaning, and Obama is not living up to it. To be clear, I’m not complaining about the fact that he didn’t approve KXL — that is, of course, what we all wanted. Instead, I’m complaining about his immense lack of leadership, his lack of proactive will, his lack of messaging, or terrible messaging, and the fact that he really hasn’t given us much of anything CLEAR to go on as we try to decide who he is, what he’ll do, whether to believe him or not, and what to expect if he’s elected again. Indeed, can YOU tell me what we should expect if he’s elected again, without largely making it up? He has been President for three years now, and there’s still no trust-able, clear, credible way to ascertain what he will or won’t do in the coming one or five years, is there? I must admit, I have a problem with that. I think we should expect more, demand more, and require more as a condition of our continued support. We aren’t supposed to have to “guess”, or merely “hope”, about what a candidate will or won’t do, if elected. Clarity and muddiness are not identical. Leadership and belated “reaction” are not identical. Look at Obama’s statement again, and let me know whether you think it reflects the leadership and clarity that’s needed (and that we WILL need), or whether it is more reflective of muddiness and belated reaction. I’m not saying (of course) that the Repubs would be better — far from it — but I am saying that we should push for much, much better from Obama — and we should insist on it — or we should find another Dem or start supporting the Greens, or someone who will someday get serious.

  31. prokaryotes says:

    Jeff maybe his announcement, messaging can be improved, but there is the political landscape and a realities, where most of action gets blocked by the GOP.

    When it comes to Key decisons, Obama seems quiet solid to me. Also all this jazz about a pipelien which might or might not be build, is n the end irrelevant when the oil gets burned elsewhere.

    We require a much more fundamental level approach. And i can see this coming. Also it requires action on the “community layer”. The public needs to demand, people need to raise there voice for large scale actions, to combat the dangerous threat of climate change.