Delivering the news as if the conservative fallout was already poisoning his insides, President Barack Obama announced today that he has rejected TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline. In his eight-minute address to the media, the President laid out a sophisticated, nuanced explanation for the rejection, citing America’s falling oil prices, dedication to clean energy and need to reduce carbon emissions as major factors.
Wait, Didn’t We Already Do This?
For those of you who already know what the KXL is, you may be wondering if you’ve seen this movie before. Your confusion is merited. Prior to today’s announcement, the U.S. House of Representatives drafted no less than eleven bills approving the construction of the Keystone XL. Only one of them ever made it to the President’s desk, and the President vetoed it back in February.
That was because Congress has no authority to approve the construction of a transnational project like KXL, a point that even Republican Congressman Justin Amash (the only Republican to vote “no” on the Congressional KXL bill) acknowledged.
“Through this bill,” Obama wrote in a memo, “the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.”
The longstanding and proven process in this case (and the prerequisite for its approval) was a review by the State Department – a review that has taken seven years to complete. Make of that what you will.
What Was the KXL?
For those of you out there who do not know what the KXL is – or, rather, would have been – here’s a very simple primer: It would have been a $7.6 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline running from Canada’s tar sands to American refineries in the Gulf, and would have transported about 830,000 barrels of ultra-heavy crude over the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water to America’s heartland. In the short-term, the pipeline would have created about 42,000 contract jobs, resulting in about 50 permanent positions after two years.
Perhaps most importantly, the US State Department concluded that the pipeline would be financially unfeasible if oil prices dropped below $75 a barrel. As of this writing, West Texas Intermediate crude is trading at $44.29/bbl.
Planet Experts has covered the issue of the KXL in some depth, which you can peruse in the articles below:
- From Oil Sands to Farmland: Art Tanderup vs. the Keystone XL – In November 2014, I spoke to Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer fighting the pipeline’s proposed route through his land. This article covers the history of the KXL, the composition of oil sands and the movements opposed to its construction.
- The Keystone XL Is Still an Ecological Threat – Planet Experts’ reporter Peter Rugh discusses the ecological, economic and political forces that have defined the KXL issue.
- How Many Permanent Jobs Will the Keystone XL Actually Create? About 50. – Proponents of the KXL often claimed that it would create 42,000 American jobs. According to the State Department, the KXL would only create permanent positions for 35 employees and 15 contractors.
Why Did Obama Reject the Keystone XL?
Flanked by Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama told reporters today that “the Keystone XL pipeline has occupied what I frankly consider an overinflated role in our political discourse” over the last few years. Those on the left exaggerated how much damage it would do to the environment, he said, those on the right exaggerated how much good it would do the economy.
Without the pipeline, continued Obama, the nation added 13.5 million new jobs over the course of his tenure; the unemployment rate has fallen to five percent; and oil prices have fallen $1.27 over the past three years. “This Congress should pass a serious infrastructure plan, and keep those jobs coming,” said Obama. “That would make a difference. The pipeline would not have made a serious impact on those numbers and on the American people’s prospects for the future.”
Furthermore, Obama and the State Department concluded that “shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security.” In an effort to reduce the nation’s “reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world,” the President has committed car companies to achieving better gas mileage and committed the nation to relying more on clean, alternative energies. Thus far, the country has already achieved the President’s 2012 goal of cutting oil imports in half by 2020 and is now (for the first time in two decades) producing more oil than it imports.
Obama ended his speech with his final and most impassioned point, that the US “must transition” to a clean energy economy:
“The point is the old rules said we couldn’t promote economic growth and protect our environment at the same time. The old rules said we couldn’t transition to clean energy without squeezing businesses and consumers. But this is America, and we have come up with new ways and new technologies to break down the old rules, so that today, homegrown American energy is booming, energy prices are falling, and over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”
Obama underlined the fact that nation is leading on climate change in clean energy and energy efficiency, and will continue to do so “[a]s long as I’m President of the United States.” He concluded by saying that he looks forward to meeting his fellow world leaders at the Paris climate summit in December to negotiate an international framework for reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change.