Presidential leadership means rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

In an interview with a Nebraska TV station, President Obama took ownership of the decision for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The President recognized the very real concerns of millions of Americans with this dirty energy project. The President now awaits recommendations from the State Department and it is not clear how much more of the needed investigation into the impacts of the proposed pipeline will be done. But if the President truly weighs up the very valid concerns about the harm this pipeline will do, there can only be one decision.  To reject the Keystone XL pipeline is the kind of leadership we hope the President will continue to show to protect our health, waters, land and climate.

Saying no to the Keystone XL pipeline helps set America on a path away from the type of decline that climate change will mean. But this is just the first step. We also need strong regulation of the climate pollution being spewed by coal-fired power plants and our cars. We need strong incentives for clean energy, smart growth, and better transit – America can stay powered and moving without sacrificing our future well-being.

President Obama’s words in yesterday’s interview were the first clear signal that the President himself was listening to the American public about the need to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The President said he heard concerns about health, drinking water and agricultural lands. The President has rightly heard the many ranchers and landowners concerned about an oil spill into the Ogallala Aquifer. But tightly connected to this is the fact that climate change is also hurting our health, water and agricultural lands. Just yesterday my colleague Jake Schmidt blogged that a new report from the prestigious International Panel on Climate Change showed that we are on a clear trajectory for more extreme weather and climate change is a large cause of that increase. Seeing the pipeline through the lens of oil spills is important. Seeing it through the lens of climate change means looking not just at the pipeline path, but at extraction costs of this very high carbon fuel and at the high price we pay when we deepen our dependence on oil in our gas tanks. Ever worsening climate change diminishes our economic prospects and will lead to a decline in America’s future well-being.

Globally, violent storms put the first half of 2011 into first place in terms of financial losses which reached $265 billion – of that $27 billion in the United States. Reminders of climate change are all around us these days. This summer, the U.S. south suffered the worst drought since the dust bowl – especially Texas which then had to deal with raging wildfires. Texas is now being asked to grant the foreign company TransCanada water permits for the Keystone XL pipeline – something that the water-restricted state may not end up finding in its own interest.

And the idea that Canadian oil is somehow better for our national security is being thoroughly debunked. Just today the U.S. Military Advisory Board released a new study Ensuring America's Freedom of Movement: a National Security Imperative to Reduce America's Oil Dependence. The report dismisses the argument that America can insulate itself by sourcing its oil from friendly sources such as Canada or by increasing domestic drilling. A disruption in oil supplies anywhere in the world will drive up the price of oil, according to the report. In the newspaper the Guardian, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, a former U.S. Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, and one of the authors of the report was was quoted as saying "We really can't differentiate in a realistic way between oil from Venezuela or Iran or Canada."

The concerns I raise are echoed in the growing public outcry against expanding our dependence on tar sands oil and against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In my work, I have regular contact with landowners and farmers along the proposed pipeline route, members of Aboriginal communities, mayors, students, and people who live near refineries. They are frustrated and angry with a drive for dirty energy that harms their land, water and communities. They are ready for the opportunities that clean energy will bring.  We saw that in the willingness of people from all walks of life to risk arrest over the Keystone XL pipeline – to put ourselves behind barricades in those last weeks of August and disobey the police. This is something that as a lawyer, I never thought I would do.

Thousands of people are planning to come to Washington, D.C. on Sunday, November 6. This next rally is not a time for risking arrest. Now that we have the President’s attention, we will form a human circle around the White House to say: Mr. President – we have your back. We stand with you in standing up to Big Oil. We stand with you in rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. And we ask you to show the courageous leadership we know you are capable of and move us forward into a healthy and prosperous future where climate change is not a growing threat to our health, land, and waters.

Join the NRDC team led by John Adams – one of our founders and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom - in Washington, D.C. on November 6 to say no to the Keystone XL pipeline. Register here.

Send a letter to President Obama to ask him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Go to