November 10th, 2011 by Zachary Shahan
Well, I don’t think there’s much doubt about this: the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline that would be “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” or “game over” for the climate according to some climate scientists who spoke out against it was squashed (temporarily) by a groundswell of citizen action.
After over 1,000 citizens, of all stripes, let themselves be arrested in front of the White House over the course of weeks this summer, and over 10,000 came out to circle the White House (literally) on Sunday, it’s been announced that the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline must be re-routed (if it is ever built) and has to undergo a new environmental review. What does that mean? That means a decision to approve it or not will be pushed off until 2013, at the earliest. What does that mean? Well, among other things, that means that Obama can more easily reject it without worrying that doing so will cost him re-election.
But, the real question for me is: Is Obama going to reject it when time comes around to doing so? And, perhaps first, will the new environmental review really take into account its tremendous global warming costs? (Supposedly, according to the Obama administration, it will.)
From the official statement (full statement on page 2): “the Department [will] determine, in consultation with the eight other agencies identified in the Executive Order, whether the proposed pipeline [is] in the national interest, considering all of the relevant issues together. Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.”
Obama, the Keystone XL pipeline, and Climate Change
“I support the State Department’s announcement today regarding the need to seek additional information about the Keystone XL pipeline proposal,” Obama said after the announcement. “Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood.”
Obama has been a bit of a mixed bag on energy and climate change. He has done more for clean energy than perhaps any president in U.S. history. At the same time, though, his administration has opened up large swaths of Wyoming to massive coal mining (I’m sorry, but WTF was that about?). Additionally, he hasn’t exactly been the most anti-oil person in history and has tried to lower the price of oil for Americans — sure, most Americans practically demand that, but that’s not what many (or most) of his constituents tasked him with — they tasked him with addressing the biggest threat humanity has probably ever faced, global warming and climate change.
Of course, for now, every environmental organization in the U.S., and thousands or millions of concerned citizens are more than happy with the decisions just made.
Environmental Organizations Celebrate, but Not Going to Let the Pressure Off
“This is huge. The decision is not the same as rejecting the pipeline. But it is a major delay. And it is also an explicit recognition of the inadequacy of the State Department’s initial review process. And it is proof that the petitions, phone calls, letters, rallies, and yes, 1,252 arrests, made an enormous impact on this decision,” CREDO Action writes (petition to say “thank you” to President Obama and ask him to reject the pipeline altogether via the link).
“The Obama Administration has also said that the new evaluation will take into account the enormous climate change impacts of the pipeline. This is important progress, as the climate change pollution produced by this pipeline was not considered in the State Department’s initial sham review.”
The organization probably most responsible for this victory, 350.org, has also chimed in with tremendous enthusiasm. From Bill McKibben:
“After relentless campaigning, the Keystone XL pipeline has been killed! The Obama Administration will be requesting a 12-18 month review for the Keystone XL pipeline, effectively eliminating the potential the project would go through, according to most analysts.”
But 350.org also calls for more people to pledge action if the pipeline is ever approved, and direct action in particular. The specific pledge you can sign now says: “I pledge to take bold action to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and any similar project designed to transport tar sands oil, should it be approved by President Obama’s Administration or any other.”
Direct Action (Activism) Critical to Climate Change Action from Government
Even with a supposedly green administration, it’s clear that there is a huge, rich fossil fuel industry with a ton of control over our politicians. We have to keep the pressure on them all — keep them in a big, bright spotlight — if we are going to get the action we need to protect both future generations and ourselves. Petitions are great. They help out. But Direct Action is ‘where the money’ is. (See: It’s Time for a Direct Action Comeback! (Now))
Votes still win elections. While money can buy a ton of votes, direct action that gets media covering a topic, and that can influence millions of voters, has no replacement. Direct action spurs online action, petitions, social media or social network sharing, and more.
It’s nice to see the U.S. realizing this and rallying together to stop the Keystone XL and, in the case of Occupy Wall Street, trying to get money out of politics and return our country to the people (not just the 0.01% or 1% or so).
State Department Statement on the Keystone XL
“[G]iven the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska,” the State Department said in a statement.
Nebraska, concerns there, is a key focus of the statement. But I think it’s no secret to anyone following the project that Nebraska’s concerns would have been plowed over if it weren’t for activists around the country stepping up against this project, including Hollywood stars like Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
This project was once considered a shoe-in by the oil industry and its supporters. It was certainly the people of the United States who have turned things around.
The full statement from the State Department is on page 2: State Department Statement on Keystone XL changes/review
Photo Credit: Shadia Fayne
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