Obama’s Rejection of Keystone XL Is Victory, But That’s Not the Whole Story

‘The black snake, Keystone XL, has been defeated and best believe we will dance to our victory!’

(Photo: tarsandsaction/flickr/cc)

President Obama’s official rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday was met with grand applause from those who opposed the project and organizers who worked tirelessly, despite long odds, to force the administration’s hand.

However, even as celebrations were enjoyed and an evening rally was scheduled outside the White House, there’s more to this story than the simple rejection of a single pipeline and the ultimate climate legacy of a president who has announced a ‘historic’ decision.

Mass Movements Work

Through years of unprecedented campaigning, ordinary people in the United States and Canada turned what could have been an unremarkable rubber stamping of yet another fossil fuel pipeline into an internationally-watched fight to stop climate change. Since 2011, communities across the United States have staged over 750 direct actions and protests across the country—from mass sit-ins at the White House to a tens-of-thousands-strong march on the National Mall. Farmers, workers, students, Indigenous peoples, and communities on the frontlines of oil refineries and extreme weather put their bodies and relationships on the line—risking arrest, talking to their neighbors, and taking to the streets.

“The black snake, Keystone XL, has been defeated and best believe we will dance to our victory!” —Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network

“We stood our ground and today President Obama stood with us, the pipeline fighters,” said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska. “Tonight landowners can finally go to sleep knowing their family is safe and sound. Our unlikely alliance showed America that hard work and scientific facts can beat Big Oil’s threat to our land and water.”

Those interested can sign an online Thank You Card to the Movement that will be delivered to every single person who has participated in an action against the Keystone XL pipeline since over the past four years. And people across the United States are holding rejection parties to relish in “one golden well-deserved moment” of celebration.

Canada’s Win, But Trudeau’s “Disappointment”

Even as they celebrated the KXL rejection, Canadian climate activists on Friday seized on President Barack Obama’s statement that freshly sworn-in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—who publicly supported the project on the campaign trail—had “expressed his disappointment” about the U.S. State Department’s decision on the pipeline.

“President Obama just sent a message that Prime Minister Trudeau should heed—you can’t be a climate leader while supporting tar sands pipelines.” —Mike Hudema, Greenpeace Canada

Social activist Naomi Klein, for example, tweeted that Trudeau’s reaction was a “BAD way to enter the climate conversation,” because “dirty pipelines are the way of the past.”

The Keystone development came as Canadian environmentalists entered their second of four days of civil disobedience, aimed at convincing Trudeau to freeze tar sands development and commit to a justice-based transition to a clean energy economy.

They took Friday’s news as a chance to double down on their message: “Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline sets a new standard for political climate action,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, Stop it at the Source Campaigner with 350.org Canada. “Justin Trudeau needs to take note that it is time now to listen to the science, to Indigenous Peoples, and to freeze tar sands expansion.”

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“President Obama just sent a message that Prime Minister Trudeau should heed—you can’t be a climate leader while supporting tar sands pipelines,” added (pdf) Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “The prime minister needs to follow the president’s lead and recognize that science demands and the public wants action on climate change and that can’t be done while expanding the tar sands.”

Economics of Tar Sands

The pipeline rejection comes amid a continuing plummet in crude oil prices, which has forced some oil giants to ditch certain projects and means dwindling enthusiasm for tar sands production, because, as “the world’s most expensive crude,” it just doesn’t make economic sense.

Bloomberg reported the rejection was just a confirmation that “there’s less appetite for expensive Canadian oil sands in an era of $45 crude.”

Yet the falling price of oil has left TransCanada “undeterred,” and as Christine Tezak, an energy market analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, told the New York Times, “How long it takes [to move tar sands crude] is just a result of oil prices. If prices go up, companies will get the oil out.”

A ‘Historic’ Decision? Yes. But Not So Fast on Obama’s Climate Leadership

Obama took the occasion of the Keystone announcement to tout his administration’s environmental track record—but should rejection of this one project be allowed to overshadow his adminstration’s numerous shortcomings when it comes to climate?

“America is leading on climate change by working with other big emitters like China to encourage and announce new commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions,” Obama said, adding that “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.”

However, Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline comes only months after he approved offshore drilling in the Arctic, an affront to climate activists and a near-fatal blow to vulnerable communities and marine life that was only avoided when Royal Dutch Shell called off its exploration project in September.

Through his presidency, Obama has repeatedly been criticized for bragging that he has expanded domestic oil and gas production, and critics say his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy proves he simply does not understand the dangers posed by runaway climate change nor the urgency needed for a rapid and just transition to renewables.

As climate experts have pointed out ahead of the United Nations-sponsored COP21 talks in Paris, beginning later this month, the U.S. is far from a leader in climate action and is one of several wealthy nations that is not meeting its potential to reduce greenhouse gases. Though it has historically been the planet’s leading polluter, the U.S. under Obama has continued to evade its financial obligations to help developing countries deal with the immediate impacts of global warming.

Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-nation agreement and “corporate power grab nightmare” that Obama has pushed for strongly even as experts warn the deal is an absolute “nightmare” when it comes to environment and, in fact, never even mentions the term “climate change.”

In The Shadow of KXL, A Troubling Network of Pipelines, Oil Trains, and Climate Denial

As Common Dreams has reported extensively, the fight over Keystone XL has not prevented the fossil fuel and pipeline industries on both sides of the U.S./Canada border from aggressively—if quietly—planning, proposing, and building a network of infrastructure projects that collectively “dwarf” KXL in their capacity.

“While the Obama White House Keystone XL decision has been touted by most environmentalists and criticized by Big Oil and its front groups, the truth is much more complex and indeed, dirty.” —Steve Horn, DeSmogBlog

From the “zombie-like” Northern Gateway pipeline that refuses to die in western Canada to the massive eastward proposal known “Energy East,” the major pipeline companies in Canada continue to show their determination in upping the nation’s ability to transport their vast reserves of dirty oil. In addition to the those larger and well-known projects, there are numerous others that continue to threaten communities and the climate across Canada.

In the U.S., a vast network consisting of thousands of miles of new pipelines has been built in recent years. As Steve Horn, a freelance investigative journalist who writes for DeSmogBlog, said on Friday: “While the Obama White House Keystone XL decision has been touted by most environmentalists and criticized by Big Oil and its front groups, the truth is much more complex and indeed, dirty. That’s because for years behind the scenes the Obama Administration has quietly been approving hundreds of miles-long pieces of pipeline owned by pipeline company goliath Enbridge.”

And Daphne Wysham, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for Sustainable Economy in Washington state, added, “The Pacific Northwest is facing the carbon equivalent of five Keystone XL pipelines in the form of coal, gas, and oil via rail and pipeline.”

Meanwhile, the exponential growth of oil-by-rail has become an area of serious concern for environmentalists and community members who have done their best to squelch the false argument that we must choose between the inevitable destruction of a pipeline disaster or the wreckage of the next firey oil train derailment.

As Stephen Kretzmann, of Oil Change International, told Common Dreams in 2013, “There is no use talking about the best way to transport a product which climate science tells us shouldn’t even be being produced … It’s like debating whether or not menthol or regular cigarettes are worse for you. They both kill, and that’s the point.”


CC-BY-SAThis work is licensed by Common Dreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

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Dear Secretary John Kerry

As someone concerned with climate change, I want to thank you for your years of climate leadership as a Senator. As Secretary of State, you have the opportunity to have an even greater impact on combating climate change. One of the main ways you can do that now is by telling President Obama that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest and should be rejected.

Climate action starts at home, and one of the first and clearest actions you could take would be to recognize that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a climate issue. The evidence is clear that Keystone XL could increase production levels of tar sands oil in Alberta, and therefore significantly add to carbon emissions. Moreover, the massive investment would lock us into dependence on this dirty fuel for decades, exacerbating carbon pollution just when we have to move quickly and decisively in the other direction.

Beyond the effects on our climate, activities to remove those toxic materials have already had a serious impact on wildlife who call that area home.  Plus, the dangerous pipeline would put the water supply and the bread basket we use to feed millions of Americans at risk. After a year in which many communities across the USA were harmed by spills from existing pipelines, we cannot allow any more of the dirtiest, most toxic tar sands immersed in solvents that NO ONE knows how to clean up, to spill and permanently contaminate our farm lands, our aquifers and our waterways.

President Obama will have the final say on the Presidential Permit for Keystone XL, but your department, as the lead agency, will point the way. Although the State Department’s environmental impact statement underestimated the likelihood that Keystone XL pipeline would fuel climate change, you can set the record straight in your National Interest Determination.

At a minimum, you could say that Keystone XL is not in our national interest. But to be totally blunt, this pipeline would be an absolute disaster not only for our country, but also for our planet! Not only is there is no available “Planet B” within migrating distance, we have no viable means to get there even if there were a likely “Planet B.”

All we ask is that you get your facts right and support our fight against climate change in your decision on Keystone XL. We’re sure that once you have studied the issue carefully, you will see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a significant climate issue, and must be stopped.


The final comment period is open for 30 days.  Send your own letter to Secretary Kerry asking him to “reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Speaker Boehner & his GOP Brethren Approve KXL, Spread Propaganda

I certainly hope that Representative Mark Amodei and Representative Joe Heck made a call to their insurance agents and purchased personal liability insurance for Tar Sands oil spills, because today the voted FOR passage of HR3, the Northern Route Approval Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves construction of the Keystone pipeline. That means they are complicit in enabling the eventual pollution of our land, our aquifers and our nation’s breadbasket that puts food on our tables.  You think the Arkansas spill was bad?  Just wait, the eventual KXL pipeline spill will be absolutely catastrophic and we need to be prepared to hold each and every representative in Congress who voted for this catastrophe accountable.

Following the House vote on HR 3, Speaker immediately put out a press release that is tantamount to pure propaganda claiming the construction of the KXL pipeline will create 10s of thousands of jobs and will swamp our gas stations with abundant supplies of cheap gas.  The reality, however, is that if the KXL pipeline IS constructed, it will suck every gallon of gas they can pump out the the US down that pipeline for shipment to foreign countries, leaving us high and dry, with astronomical gas prices for the remainder of many of our lifetimes.  Here’s Speaker Boehner’s press release:

House Votes to Approve Keystone Pipeline, Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs & Increase Energy Security

Posted by Speaker Boehner Press Office
May 22, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today applauded House passage of the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3), legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves the Keystone pipeline and eliminates legal and regulatory barriers to its construction and the tens of thousands of jobs it will create:

“When American families hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll once again be paying the price for the Obama administration’s failed energy policy.  Gas prices have nearly doubled on the president’s watch, draining family budgets and making it harder for small businesses to hire.  The Northern Route Approval Act, part of Republicans’ plan for economic growth and jobs, will help families and small businesses by approving the Keystone pipeline and removing barriers that could keep it tied up in legal limbo for years. 

“The Keystone pipeline will create tens of thousands of American jobs and pump nearly a million barrels of oil to U.S. refineries each day, helping to lower gas prices, boost economic growth, enhance our energy security, and revitalize manufacturing.  The project is backed by a majority of the American people, including members of the president’s own party.  Labor unions have rallied for its approval, saying it’s ‘not just a pipeline, it’s a lifeline.’  Unfortunately, after nearly five years of blocking the project, it’s a lifeline President Obama is refusing to toss American workers.

“House Republicans will continue fighting for the Keystone pipeline as part of our jobs plan that cuts red tape and unlocks more of America’s resources.  It is time for the president to put his political calculations aside, work with Republicans to approve the Keystone pipeline, and advance a growth and jobs agenda that will help our economy grow and put more Americans back to work.”

But just weeks ago, we learned from Ryan Koronowski, who posted an article on ThinkProgress, that the pipeline will not create 10s of thousands of jobs, but instead, will create a measly 35 permanent jobs, a far cry from even just 1000 permanent jobs.  And, to make matters worse, it will exacerbate the problems we’re experiencing with climate change.  The refining process for tar sands crude (if you can really define crude as tar sands mixed in toxic proprietary solvents) will emit more carbon into the atmosphere than 51 seriously dirty coal plants.  Not only that, but a series of amendments, some dealing with pipeline safety and the cost of cleaning up potential pipeline spills, were all defeated along party lines.  So once again, the GOP has shown us their true colors, showing preference to corporate profits and choosing to socialize cleanup costs for the corporations.

Keystone Pipeline Will Create Only 35 Permanent Jobs, Emit 51 Coal Plants’ Worth Of Carbon

By Ryan Koronowski on Apr 17, 2013 at 7:15 pm

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he wasn’t touching the Keystone pipeline decision with a ten-foot pole:

“I am staying as far away from that as I can now so that when the appropriate time comes to me, I am not getting information from any place I shouldn’t be, and I am not getting engaged in the debate at a time that I shouldn’t be,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Right now, Kerry has the State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, but if that is all he information he relies on, he won’t get the full picture. While he will see that the project will only bring 35 permanent jobs, which is true, he would also see almost no discussion of the pipeline’s impact on the climate. (Oddly, he will be able to read an extended discussion of climate change’s projected impacts on the construction and maintenance of the proposed pipeline.)

So where is a Secretary of State sincerely concerned about climate change to go to find the climate consequences of approving the Keystone XL pipeline? He could peruse a new report out yesterday from Oil Change International called: “Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

The report’s recommendation:

In a world constrained by the realities of climate change, the proper measure of any project’s climate impact should not be based on the assumptions inherent in a business as usual scenario that guarantees climate disaster. Instead, the State Department should base these critical decisions on whether the project makes sense in a world that is actually seeking to minimize the real dangers of climate change. On this basis, we recommend that decision-makers consider the total amount of carbon that will be released by the project into the atmosphere.

How do they back that up?

  • Using industry analysis of carbon emissions from current tar sands production, the report says the pipeline will carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year. That’smore than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • Both the IEA and the World Bank have said that if we want to avoid the catastrophic implications of warming the planet by more than 2 degrees C, we cannot burn any more than one-third of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves by 2050.
  • U.S. oil demand has fallen by 2.25 million barrels per day, but if we want to cut emissions to hold global temperature below 2 degrees C, there are very few scenarios that include a Keystone pipeline pumping 3.3 million barrels or tar sands oil per day.
  • Petcoke, which is a byproduct of the tar sands refining process, is exported for use as a coal substitute. Since petcoke is cheaper than coal, this encourages more coal burning, and therefore more carbon emissions. The State Department’s EIS does not acknowledge this.
  • The pipeline’s pump stations will emit 4.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year, after 240,000 metric tons during the construction phase. This is like adding an extra U.S. coal plant. This pipeline, remember, will pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day.
  • Tar sands pollute more than conventional oil — 27 million more metric tons of CO2 according to the EPA. This would be the same as 7 coal plants. Tar sands are so carbon intensive because of the way it burns, and how much energy is required to extract it. The State Department acknowledged that this will cause 17 percent more carbon emissions than regular oil.

Won’t the tar sands be extracted whether the pipeline is approved or rejected? Not so:

There are many compelling arguments against the fatalistic assertion that the tar sands will be fully exploited regardless of the Keystone XL pipeline. Other proposed pipelines also face substantial opposition in Canada and other regions of the United States. Further, increased costs associated with alternatives such as rail make it clear that the Keystone XL pipeline is far and away the industry’s first choice, and industry experts have been the first to admit this.

The State Department EIS dismisses out of hand the implications of burning the oil we’re projected to burn, saying it is business as usual. But this business is leading us to a very unusual climate future. The idea of approving the Keystone pipeline becomes more impossible as the facts become clearer. We can only hope that Secretary Kerry will stay engaged in the real debate and make the right choice for a livable climate.

[The article above, originally posted on ThinkProgress,  was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.]

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Oil Corrupts and It’s All About the Money

DeSmogBlog investigates the controversial decision by Alberta’s government to ignore the threat of rapid industrial expansion in the Alberta Tar Sands region, and instead kill thousands of wolves to appear to be doing something to save dwindling woodland caribou populations. Through interviews with scientists, wildlife experts and a First Nations chief, the myth of Canada’s “ethical oil” is further exposed as oil industry greenwashing.

ADVOCACY: Don’t Kill Wolves for TAR SANDS!

We just managed to eke out a small victory for the environment when the President didn’t give the OK for the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  Now, when one would hope things wouldn’t get any worse, it should be no surprise … it has.

To make up for the fact that rapid tar sands oil mining is threatening caribou herds by destroying vast swaths of forest habitat in Alberta, the Canadian government has called for killing thousands of wolves.

If Alberta Canada’s tar sands oil fields are fully developed, an area of boreal rainforest the size of Florida will be eviscerated, leaving in its wake giant ponds of toxic wastewater.

It’s obvious why this would pose a massive threat to all wildlife species who reside there, including birds, wolves, woodland caribou and the iconic spirit bear.  But instead of preserving the habitat caribou need for their survival, the Canadian government’s answer is to blaze ahead with tar sands oil extraction, and kill thousands of wolves who would naturally prey on the caribou. A paper released this week by the National Wildlife Federation reports that The Ministry of the Environment’s plan calls for aerial shooting, and poisoning with bait laced with strychnine — a particularly painful type of poison.

This plan to kill wolves is a misguided, cruel response that does nothing to alleviate the greater problem: tar sands oil extraction is a huge threat to wildlife, local communities, and all of our futures.

But despite the clear negative consequences, the Canadian government continues working to rapidly expand tar sands production and sales, including promoting the Keystone XL Pipeline to export tar sands oil all over the world.

Understandably, this has begun to earn Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and many in the country’s government, a negative reputation to which they are becoming increasingly sensitive.

The Ministry of the Environment has not yet begun this planned wolf kill. With enough public pressure, we can get them to abandon the plan, and build the case for Canada to stop their devastating race to expand tar sands oil development.

Click here to sign CREDO’s the petition

Thank you for fighting tar sands and all their devastation.
Elijah zarlin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

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