State of the Union lays the groundwork for Keystone XL tar sands pipeline rejection


In his State of the Union address, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to addressing climate change and laid the groundwork for the rejection of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The President urged Congress to set its sights on expanding jobs to build the infrastructure for the 21st century rather than focusing on the Keystone XL pipeline - a tar sands projects that would sustain just 35 permanent jobs while putting our land, waters and climate at risk. Those employment prospects are dwarfed by the job creation potential of the clean energy sector, which created nearly a quarter-million jobs over the last three years while building infrastructure that will be good for the health of our children and planet.

As the Administration works to conclude its evaluation of Keystone XL, it has become clear the tar sands pipeline fails the climate test that the President laid out in Georgetown. Keystone XL's pivotal role in expanding tar sands development is clear while recent studies have shown that tar sands development do not fit in a world that hopes to stabilize climate change. The President's commitment to ensure American leadership drives international action on climate may prove Keystone XL's final death knell. Few issues would offer a better opportunity to demonstrate that the United States is serious about planning for a lower carbon future than the rejection of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

During the State of the Union address, President Obama addressed Congress's focus on the Keystone XL sands pipeline, saying:

"21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure -- modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let's set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let's pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come."

As the President has noted in the past, Keystone XL's job creation potential has been highly exaggerated by proponents of the tar sands pipeline. According to the State Department, the pipeline will create 35 permanents jobs and 1,950 construction jobs for two years. Meanwhile, the project is likely to do more economic harm than good. In addition to the risk of damaging tar sands spills in the sensitive rivers and aquifers along its route, hundreds of business owners have argued that the pipeline would impose nearly $100 billion in climate-related costs on the economy while undermining the U.S. commitment to a transition to clean energy. The American Sustainable Business Council, representing more than 200,000 businesses across the country, has called on the administration to reject the pipeline.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst also discussed Keystone XL in her comments, calling the project a "jobs bill" that "a strong majority of Americans support." Neither of these assertions is true. Senator Ernst is referring to a bill that would put a stop to the Administration's national interest determination process and force the approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Meanwhile, recent polling shows that a strong majority of the American public oppose Congressional efforts to force the approval of Keystone XL, believing that the Administration's review process should be allowed to conclude before a decision is made. Moreover, two polls by the Yale/Associated Press and NBC/Wall Street Journal both show support for the controversial project has dropped to 30% to 40%, with the majority of Americans either undecided or opposed. These polls demonstrate that public support Keystone XL has dropped in recent months, highlighting the fact that the more people learn about the tar sands pipeline, the less they like it.

It is clear that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not consistent with infrastructure of the 21st century. It is part of a reckless plan to dramatically expand the tar sands - a plan that is incompatible with credible efforts to reduce carbon emissions. As the President recognized in his address, "No challenge - no challenge - poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change." That is why the President must reject Keystone XL - an early 20th century infrastructure project that would undermine our efforts to address climate change.

Photo: President Obama delivers State of the Union Address, Jan. 20, 2015; Official White House Photo by Pete Souza