Obama Ups the Ante for Paris Talks With Rejection of Keystone XL

The seven-year battle ends as the president endorses decisive action on climate change.
Demonstrators protest against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline in San Francisco on Feb. 3, 2014. (Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters)
Nov 6, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

On Friday morning, TransCanada’s website for the Keystone XL oil pipeline was still touting the “jobs, long-term energy independence and an economic boost” that the proposed 1,700 mile, 35-million-gallon-a-day conduit from Alberta’s tar sands to ports on the Gulf of Mexico would create for Americans.

President Barack Obama on Friday flatly rejected each of those claims as he announced that after a seven-year review, the State Department had decided that the Keystone XL pipeline “would not serve the national interest of the United States.”

Coming just three weeks before the international climate change treaty talks begin in Paris, the Keystone rejection puts the United States in a powerful position to press other top greenhouse gas polluters, such as Canada, Australia, China, and India, in taking potentially uncomfortable steps to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

“Today’s decision affirms the power of social movements to enact political change, and a clear sign that our movement is stronger than ever,” May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement. “With the same broad coalition that stood up against this pipeline and took to the streets during the People’s Climate March, we’re better positioned than ever before to make real climate policy a top priority for the U.S. government and achieve meaningful progress in this year’s climate talks.”

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As if to underscore that point, Obama largely endorsed the position of a growing grassroots movement seeking to end investment in oil and gas. “Now, the truth is, the United States will continue to rely on oil and gas as we transition—as we must transition—to a clean energy economy,” he said Friday when announcing the Keystone XL decision. “Ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

The decision is a major victory for Keystone XL opponents. Over the past seven years they have waged a tenacious grassroots campaign in communities along the proposed route as well as in the halls of Congress to derail the pipeline, on the grounds that it was too great an environmental and climate risk.

Their opponents included the oil and gas industries of two nations, the powerful political supporters of those industries, and at times the Obama administration itself.

In the early years of the State Department review under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the administration made positive noises about allowing Keystone XL to proceed.

President Obama arrives to speak about the Keystone XL pipeline and his energy policies at the TransCanada Stillwater pipe yard in Cushing, Oklahoma, on March 22, 2012. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

As recently as March 2012, President Obama smiled as he strode past a pile of massive pipeline segments intended for Keystone’s route through six American states.

But speaking from the Oval Office on Friday, Obama denounced both sides for turning the proposal into the nation’s most controversial energy project.

“For years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse,” the president said. “It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”