President Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline for a second time

A view of Alberta’s tar sands, which were once covered by lush boreal forests

In a statement released this afternoon, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would have linked Canada’s tar sands to Texas’s refineries. Obama had already effectively rejected the pipeline in early November, when he put off a ruling until after the 2013 elections. But the fossil fuel lobby and their allies in Congress pushed through legislation in mid December that forced the president to make a decision within 60 days. The White House seems to have taken such bullying as an opportunity to reiterate its earlier point: a decision will not be made this year.

While environmentalists should be excited that their efforts played a clear role in making the pipeline a complex campaign issue, there is no indication that Obama won’t eventually allow a tar sands pipeline, if reelected. Congress gave the Obama administration a huge out by allowing him to  reject the pipeline on procedural grounds, which he more-or-less noted in his statement today:

“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,” Obama said. “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.”

Had he been forced to reject the pipeline on the sole basis of environmental concerns, the news today might be very different. Obama can’t be seen as too anti-pipeline these days–even though it has been proven to be a jobs bust.

The 234 Congress members who voted to expedite the pipeline, however, won’t be so generous (or shortsighted) in the future, which is why tar sands activists have made them their next target. On January 24, the day after Congress returns to Washington, tar sands opponents will be converging on Capitol Hill and processing to the headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s #1 lobby, dressed as referees.

As organizer Bill McKibben explained in an email earlier this week:

We’re going to call penalties—forget facemasking, this is vote-buying. Forget unsportsmanlike conduct—this is undemocratic conduct.

This time we plan to get up close and personal with some of the worst folks on Capitol Hill. Not only will we be sending an unavoidable message (I don’t think a gaggle of refs is a common sight in DC), we also hope to make a media stir that will be a counterbalance to the flood of ads and propaganda unleashed by the industry over the past two weeks.

Warning: it won’t work right away. These guys have been having their way for so long that it won’t dawn on them quickly that the game is us. We’ll have to fight them all spring long to prevent Keystone, and to take away the billions in subsidies that they present each year to the oil industry (with our money). But if we’re going to take back our country we’ve got to start somewhere, and January 24 is the day.

For more information on the action visit 350.org.

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