Ending a review process that lasted nearly seven years, President Obama on Friday rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline, siding firmly with environmental activists and drawing the ire of business and labor groups who say the administration is willfully standing in the way of economic growth, job creation and energy security.
In a speech at the White House, Mr. Obama, flanked by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, formally announced they’ll block construction of Keystone.
“The State Department has decided the Keystone XL pipeline would not serve the national interests of the United States. I agree with that decision,” the president said, brushing off Keystone’s potential impact on the economy and on North American energy security and saying the entire issue has been overblown and has occupied an “inflated role in our political discourse” over the past seven years.
Earlier this week, the company proposing the massive project, TransCanada, asked the State Department to halt its review while legal issues regarding the pipeline’s proposed route through Nebraska are sorted out. The administration denied that request, fueling speculation that the president was on the verge of killing Keystone.
TransCanada’s move widely was viewed as an attempt to stall a decision on Keystone until after Mr. Obama leaves office, potentially setting up a scenario in which a future president — perhaps one more supportive of domestic oil-and-gas infrastructure projects — would be the one to make the final call.
In a statement, the company expressed profound disappointment with the decision and said the president has shown disregard for the jobs Keystone would create and the economic growth it would spur.
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“Today, misplaced symbolism was chosen over merit and science — rhetoric won out over reason. … It is disappointing the administration appears to have said yes to more oil imports from Iran and Venezuela over oil from Canada, the United States’ strongest ally and trading partner, a country with rule of law and values consistent with the U.S,” TransCanada President Russ Girling said. “Today’s decision deals a damaging blow to jobs, the economy and the environment on both sides of the border.”
While Friday’s announcement seems to kill the pipeline for good, leading Republicans vowed to continue to fight for the project on Capitol Hill and said it’s a matter of time until Keystone is built.
“Given this project’s importance to North American energy independence, the question still remains not if but when Keystone will be built. Republicans have no intention of giving up on common-sense jobs ideas like Keystone. Our nation’s long-term need for the energy and jobs Keystone would provide will certainly outlast the little over a year remaining in the term of the current Administration,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
In his remarks, the president made clear that he believes the pipeline would not boost the economy, create jobs or lower gas prices for American consumers. Mr. Obama also said the U.S. must lead the world on climate action, and approving Keystone would have put America’s ability to lead at risk.
“Frankly, approving this project would’ve undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting. Today we’re continuing to lead by example,” he said. “America is going to hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world.”
Supporters of the project — including the president’s allies in organized labor — reacted angrily to the news.
“Proving politics is more important to this White House than American jobs, President Obama today killed the opportunity to create thousands of long-term jobs and advance North American energy security,” National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons and Laborers International Union of North America General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a joint statement. “After years of holding this project hostage by delaying a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, the President turned his back on hardworking Americans, who overwhelmingly support the pipeline. Manufacturers, all workers and all Americans deserve far better than to be treated so poorly.”
Lawmakers said the decision proves the administration values environmentalism over economic growth.
“The charade is officially over and we now know, despite seven years of bluster, increasing energy security and job creation is not a top priority for this administration. It’s sad day for American workers and consumers,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
If built, Keystone would have crossed the U.S.-Canada boundary, connected to existing pipeline infrastructure and transported more than 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil each day to refineries on the Gulf Coast. State Department research has shown the project would create more than 40,000 jobs.
Administration studies also have found that the project would have no real impact on North American greenhouse-gas emissions since TransCanada likely would find another way to get its fuel to market.
But those facts seem to have been outweighed by the administration’s laser-like focus on climate change. Friday’s announcement comes just weeks before a landmark international climate-change summit in Paris, and environmentalists said the decision on Keystone lays the groundwork for even more action on global warming during the president’s last year in office.
“President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate. That gives him new stature as an environmental leader, and it eloquently confirms the five years and millions of hours of work that people of every kind put into this fight,” said leading environmental activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate-change group 350.org.
More than ever, environmental activists now see the president as a staunch ally in their fight against climate change.
“This has never been about just President Obama’s decision and this has never been about just one pipeline. This is a win for long-term climate justice over short-term corporate profits. And it is only the beginning of what this growing movement will achieve,” said Lindsey Allen, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network.
In addition to garnering support from organized labor, Keystone also found strong support among some Democrats on Capitol Hill, though many prominent figures in the party — including 2016 presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton — have come out against the proposal.