Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, President Barack Obama announced today that his administration has — after a lengthy and repeatedly delayed review process — rejected oil giant TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.
“Now, for years, the Keystone [XL] Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse,” said the President said in his opening remarks. “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.”
Despite his professed belief that Keystone XL would not have been “the express lane to climate disaster” the President acknowledged that approval of Keystone XL would have hurt seriously international efforts to combat the climate crisis.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama said. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.”
Progressive leaders across the country praised Obama’s decision.
“This is a big win. President Obama’s decision to reject Keystone XL because of its impact on the [Earth’s] climate is nothing short of historic — and sets an important precedent that should send shockwaves through the fossil fuel industry,” said May Boeve, the Executive Director of 350.org.
“Just a few years ago, insiders and experts wrote us off and assured the world Keystone XL would be built by the end of 2011. Together, ranchers, tribal nations and everyday people beat this project back, reminding the world that Big Oil isn’t invincible — and that hope is a renewable resource,” she pointed out.
“But the win against Keystone XL is just the beginning, because this fight has helped inspire resistance to a thousand other projects. Everywhere you look, people are shutting down fracking wells, stopping coal export facilities, and challenging new pipelines. If Big Oil thinks that after Keystone XL the protesters are going home, they’re going to be sorely surprised.”
“We stood our ground and today President Obama stood with us, the pipeline fighters,” agreed Jane Kleeb, the Director of the grassroots group Bold Nebraska.
“Tonight landowners can finally go to sleep knowing their family is safe and sound,” Kleeb added. “Our unlikely alliance showed America that hard work and scientific facts can beat Big Oil’s threat to our land and water.”
“President Obama’s decision is courageous and historic,” said Nebraska rancher Randy Thompson, also affiliated with Bold Nebraska. “He did what was right in the face of a totally misguided and unrelenting effort by the Republican party and Big Oil to shove this pipeline down our throats. History will defend President Obama and our descendants will forever be indebted to him.”
The administration’s rejection of Keystone XL perhaps not coincidentally came within hours of the swearing in of new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who won a stunning mandate in last month’s Canadian federal elections.
Trudeau, who guided the Liberals back into the majority after they were relegated to third party status four years ago, had emphasized he would not allow U.S.-Canadian relations to deteriorate in the event that the Obama administration rejected the pipeline, unlike his predecessor, Conservative Stephen Harper, an ardent TransCanada booster, who hinted he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Obama revealed during his remarks that he had called Trudeau — also a backer of Keystone XL — to notify him in advance of the decision.
“And while he expressed his disappointment, given Canada’s position on this issue, we both agreed that our close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination between our countries going forward,” said the President.
“And in the coming weeks, senior members of my team will be engaging with theirs in order to help deepen that cooperation.”
Canada’s business establishment and big media denounced the decision.
“It’s official. The Keystone XL pipeline has become collateral damage in a war of perceptions. The tortuous saga of the cursed pipeline merits its very own and very long chapter in the annals of Canada‑U.S. relations,” wrote Konrad Yakabuski for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s newspaper of record.
“Clearly we’re disappointed in today’s decision,” said Steve Williams, head honcho at Suncor, another large Canadian oil company.
“I am very disappointed that one pipe, nearly a metre wide, is being asked to bear all the sins of the carbon economy,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, speaking as though the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is a person (which it isn’t).
“This is very difficult for the Canadian oil and gas industry,” said former TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle, who conceived the pipeline.
But progressive Canadians were thrilled.
“The Council of Canadians celebrates the defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline,” wrote CoC political director Brent Patterson. “We travelled to Washington, DC on at least three occasions to join protests against the pipeline, including calling on the Canadian embassy in August 2011 to demand that they stop lobbying for the pipeline, participating in the Surround the White House action in November 2011, and the Forward on Climate protest in February 2013.”
“By the time Mr. Trudeau took over the file from Harper, it was clearly too far gone for him to do anything about it. Now, if he’s serious about forging a new relationship with Obama and the US, he would do well not to shed a tear over Keystone and to move on to more important matters,” wrote Damien Gilliss.
Pew Research reported last month that it found a plurality of Canadians opposed — that’s right, opposed — to the Keystone XL pipeline (48%) when it surveyed denizens of the country about the issue. 42% of respondents said they favored the pipeline’s construction. Given that most Canadians are not in favor of Keystone XL, its demise is unlikely to cause much consternation outside of Canada’s equivalent of the Beltway, and outside of oil-rich and tar sands-reliant Alberta.
We at NPI feel this decision was long overdue and very much necessary. Keystone XL was in nobody’s best interest. We’re certainly glad to see it nixed. This is a courageous decision by President Obama that calls for great celebration.
But we’re also mindful that there are many other bad pipeline projects that the oil industry wants to see built. Further activism and organizing in both the United States and Canada is needed to defeat those bad projects too.
POSTSCRIPT: Globe and Mail columnist Paul Koring, who works out of D.C., opines that the timing and logic of the administration’s decision had little to do with Canada and everything to do with U.S. credibility on the world stage.