BREAKING: Obama Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline
Essentially, his hands were tied.
Late last year, President Obama signed a two-month payroll tax-cut extension—something he pushed for vehemently—to which members of Congress had tacked on a provision to accelerate the administration’s decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, giving the State Department until Feb. 21 to make the call.
The president and other top officials repeatedly noted that the forced deadline would not yield enough time to conduct a proper environmental review—something originally expected to take until 2013.
So today, the Obama administration rejected the pipeline altogether.
“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,” the president said in a statement.
Some members of Congress largely cited a sketchy figure claiming that the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs. And it’s these same House members who are taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil-and-gas lobby to support the legislative fast-tracking of the pipeline ahead of the November elections. Some members of the House are responding to the rejection by drafting legislation that would allow Congress to decide on the pipeline.
According to a recent report on a Maplight study in the Guardian, “Only 10 of the 195 members of the House of Representatives who list the oil and gas industry among their top 20 contributors opposed the bill. In all, the oil and gas industry has given nearly $12 million in direct contributions to members of Congress in the last two years.”
And there’s more—the industry isn’t just sending its message by lining the pockets of House members in support of the pipeline with their dirty oil money, but by attacking the president himself.
“I think it would be a huge mistake on the part of the president of the United States to deny the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,” Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, reportedly said during an oil industry’s “State of American Energy” conference, according to The Hill.
“Clearly, the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. A determination to decide anything less than that I believe will have huge political consequences.” [Emphasis added.]
The American Petroleum Institute has been buying up lots of commercial time to advertise in support of the pipeline before news broke of a rejection announcement.
But despite this heavy influx of cash to representatives and direct threats, the pipeline has continued to come under fire from activists and whistleblowers.
Mike Klink, a whistleblower who worked as a pipeline inspector for TransCanada’s original Keystone pipeline,came forward recently to explain why he was fired for speaking out about the blatant safety violations he witnessed.
“As an inspector, my job was to monitor the construction of the first Keystone pipeline. I oversaw construction at the pump stations that have been such a problem on that line, which has already spilled more than a dozen times. I am coming forward because my kids encouraged me to tell the truth about what was done and covered up,” Klink said. He is currently seeking whistle blower protection from the Department of Labor.
The first Keystone pipeline stretches from Alberta, Canada to Illinois. The Keystone XL would be a sister pipeline in the Athabasca Tar Sands production and would cross 1,700 miles from Albertato Texas.
But even as the Obama administration rejects the Keystone XL pipeline, the fight to limit Tar Sands production still remains crucial in the larger battle against climate change.
“In our country everything revolves around Tar Sands, even human rights,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, an organizer and coordinator of the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign of the Indigenous Environmental Network.
The Indigenous Environmental Network is focusing on tactics and strategies for intervening in the finances of Tar Sands productions, meaning shareholder activism and confronting corporate boards, Thomas-Muller told Campus Progress.
The amount of land disturbed by Tar Sands production is about the size of Vancouver Island. Much of the Tar Sands lie beneath Canada’s Boreal Forest, the second largest intact forest next to the Amazon Rainforest, which is experiencing the second-fastest rates of deforestation as a result of Tar Sands extraction.
Production of Tar Sands also pollutes the Athabasca River as equipment and facilities reside along its banks. The river is part of one of the largest fresh-water river systems on earth. The Athabasca River and the Boreal Forest not only provide habitat for many animals, but many First Nations tribes in Canada have also called them home for centuries.
Many of these tribes are breathing carcinogens emitted from Tar Sands extraction processes daily. And because of the processes of bio-accumulation, many First Nation’s peoples have the high concentrations of arsenic in their systems from their subsistence meats, such as caribou, beaver, and muskrat.
Tons of earth is removed from the site daily,and thousands of barrels of water are used to separate out the bitumen from the sands—and that water is super-heated with natural gas. What do they do with all of the waste afterward? The companies stick it into massive “tailing lakes” that can be seen from space.
One of these tailing lakes is already leaking into the Athabasca River and contaminating water all the way up to the Arctic Ocean, Thomas-Muller said.
In Alberta, Tar Sands production never stops.
“The Keystone pipeline is not going to go away,” Thomas-Muller said. “They’ll do whatever they can; they’ll make water run up-hill to get oil to market.”
Thomas-Muller said the Indigenous Environmental Network will continue to resist new pipeline proposals in Canada while working to expand the Mother Earth Accord.
Environmental activists in the U.S. are also gearing up for another protest on Jan 24. Activists led by 350.org plan to show up outside of the Capitol in referee uniforms to “blow the whistle” on big oil corruption in front of Congress, according to Climate Progress. Organizers then plan to march from Capitol Hill to the American Petroleum Institute headquarters nearby in Washington, DC.
“We’re well aware that the fossil fuel lobby won't give up easily. They have control of Congress,” 350.org Founder Bill McKibben said in response to the rejection. “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.”
Candice Bernd is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @CandiceBernd.